2008: 112. A Bend in the River

“The World is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”

A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipul

I think this is the first Naipul I have ever read, and I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated.  I have ambivalent feelings about Naipul himself - he is, I think a conservative old fart (and I gather, famous for turning on his famous friends), but he is a damn fine writer, and I must say that I enjoyed A Bend in the River much more than I had anticipated.* The novel takes place in Africa - it starts on the coast, where the narrator, who is of Indian ancestry, but whose family has been living in Africa for generations.  When a family friend (whose daughter he is desultorily engaged to) offers to sell him a business in a nation in an unnamed country in the African heartland, on a major river (hence the name - I gather the events in the story are roughly parallel to when the Belgian Congo became Zaire under Mobuto Sese Seko).  The novel charts his attempt to make a life while Africa is “modernizing” - i.e. falling apart.  Naipul manages to capture the chaos of Africa, and to show us how things fell apart, and came back together - it’s really a mediation on what civilization means, not just in Africa, but anywhere.  There isn’t much in the way of plot/characterization - the narrator seems secondary to the story of Africa (in that sense I think the book seems more like reportage than a novel), but the story he tells is enough that even though I don’t usually like books without much story (or, really depressing books about Africa, if I am totally honest), I found this fascinating.  A great read.

*Once again, I manage to endorse a great work of literature.  Stay tuned for more exciting revelations on the blog.  Water is important! Clean air is good! 


Date/Place Completed: 7/17/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction, Commuting Book, Modern Library/Book Resolution

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017