To call V. S. Naipaul’s new book superb would be merely to state the obvious. On display is Naipaul’s usual impeccable command of language, and a narrative gift of the highest order first deployed fully in THE ENIGMA OF ARRIVAL (1987). Readers whose respect may have sagged with his disappointing last book, INDIA: A MILLION MUTINIES NOW (1991), will be greatly relieved.
Naipaul once unwittingly summed up his own career: “An autobiography can distort; facts can be realigned. But fiction never lies: it reveals the writer totally.” Readers need not accept A WAY IN THE WORLD as a novel. It is above all a complex kind of autobiography, brilliantly blending personal memories, others’ stories (most memorably, that of a man Naipaul calls Manuel Sorzano), and historical fiction akin to the metafiction of John Fowles.
A WAY IN THE WORLD is a worthy capstone to a world-class career. It also is deeply flawed, as only a late-career book by V. S. Naipaul can be. Naipaul’s relationship with his native Caribbean remains fraught and no doubt painful; this is obvious in his arguably offensive portrayal (as “Lebrun”) of C. L. R. James, the Trinidadian Marxist who is considered the patriarch of Caribbean writers in this century. Why, for example, does Naipaul falsify the reputation of James’s justly famous book THE BLACK JACOBINS (1938)? “His purpose in writing the book in the 1930s had been to prove his old point about the revolutionary nature...
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