A Way in the World

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

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...

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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 of the islands; to give himself and his ideas a great past, to link the revolutionary stir of the 1930s to the stir caused in the region by the French Revolution. . . . All that labor, and I doubt whether a dozen people in Trinidad or Venezuela had read his book.”

Naipaul’s attitude and relation to James are important to readers who would understand his career as a whole. To Naipaul’s credit he confronts James, however self-servingly, in A WAY IN THE WORLD. As Naipaul himself once told an interviewer: “The good person, if he is dedicated, always makes his limitations into virtues.”

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. May 29, 1994, XIV, p. 1.

The Christian Science Monitor. May 24, 1994, p. 14.

Commonweal. CXXI, September 9, 1994, p. 28.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 22, 1994, p. 3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, May 22, 1994, p. 1.

Newsweek. CXXIII, June 13, 1994, p. 55.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, April 4, 1994, p. 57.

Time. CXLIII, May 30, 1994, p. 64.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 20, 1994, p. 12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, May 15, 1994, p. 1.

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