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No writer has rendered our boundariless, post-colonial world more acutely or prophetically than V. S. Naipaul, or given its upheavals such a hauntingly human face. A perfect case in point is this riveting novel, a masterful and stylishly rendered narrative of emigration, dislocation, and dread, accompanied by four supporting narratives.
In the beginning it is just a car trip through Africa. Two English people—Bobby, a civil servant with a guilty appetite for African boys, and Linda, a supercilious “compound wife”— are driving back to their enclave after a stay in the capital. But in between lies the landscape of an unnamed country whose squalor and ethnic bloodletting suggest Idi Amin’s Uganda. And the farther Naipaul’s protagonists travel into it, the more they find themselves crossing the line that separates privileged outsiders from horrified victims. Alongside this Conradian tour de force are four incisive portraits of men seeking liberation far from home. By turns funny and terrifying, sorrowful and unsparing, In A Free State is Naipaul at his best.
“Most of Us Know the parents or grandparents we come from. But we go back and back, forever: we go back all of us to the very beginning: in our blood and bone and brain we carry the memories of thousands of beings.”
So observes the opening narrator of A Way in the World, and it is this conundrum—that the bulk of our inheritance must remain beyond our grasp—which suffuses this extraordinary work of fiction, the first in seven years by one of the most acclaimed writers of our time. Returning to the autobiographical mode he so brilliantly explored in The Enigma of Arrival, and writing here in the classic form of linked narrations, Naipaul constructs a story of remarkable resonance and power, remembrance and invention. It is the story of a writer’s lifelong journey towards an understanding of both the simple stuff of inheritance—language, character, family history—and the long interwoven strands of a deeply complicated historical past: “things barely…[more]
In the “brilliant novel” (The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man—an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isolated town at the bend of a great river in a newly independent African nation. Naipaul gives us the most convincing and disturbing vision yet of what happens in a place caught between the dangerously alluring modern world and its own tenacious past and traditions.