A Bend in the River – V. S. Naipaul

A Bend in the River is the second book by V. S. Naipaul that I have read, after Miguel Street, and it will undoubtedly be the last. While I was already quite suspicious to book awards recently, I started to look at them with a completely different eye with this very ordinary and average book by the Nobel-winning author. I haven’t read a book in a long time that I was so overwhelmed by what it tells, its characters and how it makes one feel in general. I hope I never read such a book again.


A Bend in the River - V. S. Naipaul

The main character of A Bend in the River is Salim, an Indian Muslim. Salim is going to a town at the river’s bend to do business. Throughout the book, we listen to Salim’s experiences, inner voices, and thoughts on Africa and Europe. Unfortunately, Salim is a character you will neither love nor hate. It’s so two-dimensional that I couldn’t help but think that the author created this book and this character just to write his thoughts on Africa.

He didn’t have to worry about writing a novel; you see, he had to devote every thought to a character. In addition, some parts of the book were far too long, fell into repetition and one cannot help but get bored. Besides, I found the author’s narration as repulsive as the characters he created.

Although A Bend in the River is touted as a social and political novel, it is an ordinary book that leaves no impression or thought. I cannot recommend it to anyone.

A Bend in the River - V. S. Naipaul

A Bend in the River

Set in an unnamed African country, the book is narrated by Salim, a young man from an Indian family of traders long resident on the coast. He believes The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it. So he has taken the initiative; left the coast; acquired his own shop in a small, growing city in the continents’s remote interior and is selling sundries – little more than this and that really – to the natives.

This spot, this ‘bend in the river’, is a microcosm of post-colonial Africa at the time of Independence: a scene of chaos, violent change, warring tribes, ignorance, isolation and poverty. And from this rich landscape emerges one of the author’s most potent works – a truly moving story of historical upheaval and social breakdown.

V. S. Naipaul

V.S. Naipaul, in full Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, (born August 17, 1932, Trinidad—died August 11, 2018, London, England), Trinidadian writer of Indian descent known for his pessimistic novels set in developing countries. For these revelations of what the Swedish Academy called “suppressed histories,” Naipaul won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

Descended from Hindu Indians who had immigrated to Trinidad as indentured servants, Naipaul left Trinidad to attend the University of Oxford in 1950. He subsequently settled in England, although he traveled extensively thereafter. His earliest books (The Mystic Masseur, 1957; The Suffrage of Elvira, 1958; and Miguel Street, 1959) are ironic and satirical accounts of life in the Caribbean. His fourth novel, A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), also set in Trinidad, was a much more important work and won him major recognition.

It centres on the main character’s attempt to assert his personal identity and establish his independence as symbolized by owning his own house. Naipaul’s subsequent novels used other national settings but continued to explore the personal and collective alienation experienced in new nations that were struggling to integrate their native and Western-colonial heritages. The three stories in In a Free State (1971), which won Britain’s Booker Prize, are set in various countries; Guerrillas (1975) is a despairing look at an abortive uprising on a Caribbean island; and A Bend in the River (1979) pessimistically examines the uncertain future of a newly independent state in Central Africa.

A Way in the World (1994) is an essaylike novel examining how history forms individuals’ characters. Naipaul’s other novels include The Mimic Men (1967) and The Enigma of Arrival (1987).

Among Naipaul’s nonfiction works are three studies of India, An Area of Darkness (1965), India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990); The Five Societies—British, French, and Dutch—in the West Indies (1963); and Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981). Naipaul was knighted in 1989.

In 1998 he published Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples, a portrayal of the Islamic faith in the lives of ordinary people in Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Half a Life (2001) is a novel about an Indian immigrant to England and then Africa. He becomes “half a person,” as Naipaul has said, “living a borrowed life.” Released the year that Naipaul received the Nobel Prize, Half a Life was considered by many critics to illustrate beautifully the reasons that he won the prize.

Subsequent works include The Writer and the World (2002) and Literary Occasions (2003), both collections of previously published essays. The novel Magic Seeds (2004) is a sequel to Half a Life. In The Masque of Africa (2010)—which was based on his travels in Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa—Naipaul returned to his exploration of religion, focusing on African beliefs.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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