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(05/09/2008) A Bend In The River by V. S. Naipaul. New York. 1979. Knopf. keywords: Literature England Africa Caribbean Trinidad. Jacket design by Herb Lubalin Associates. May 1979.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   The setting is Africa today, in a country somewhere in the interior that has recently suffered revolution and civil war and is now under the authority of a new President-a man whose immense, almost insane energy and untempered crudity have made his power felt even in the remotest villages. Youth squads have sprouted up everywhere. There is a whole new apparatus in the university-scholars devoted to chronicling the wars and coups of 'the new Africa. ' Property changes hands mysteriously, and overnight. People are there one day and gone the next. There are executions. No relationship, however private, passionate or casual, is free of an unhinging insecurity. Naipaul takes us completely into the existence of one isolated man who has come to live in an isolated village at 'a bend in the river. ' He is restless, edgy, reflective-strangely, almost deliberately passive in relation to the world around him; to his work, to his sexuality, to both his past and his future. And it is the remarkable achievement of the novel that through the uneasy submission of this one man to the events and conditions that have come to define his life, we ourselves become submerged in, and held by, his reality, and the reality of his time and place. A Bend in the River is the most convincing vision we have yet been given of what 'ordinary' life is like in Africa today. Its publication is an important literary event.

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, KB, TC, better known as V. S. Naipaul, is a Trinidadian-born British writer of Indo-Trinidadian descent, currently resident in Wiltshire. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001 and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990. He is the son, older brother, uncle, and cousin of published authors Seepersad Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Neil Bissoondath, and Vahni Capildeo, respectively. His current wife is Nadira Naipaul, a former journalist. In 1971, Naipaul became the first person of Indian origin to win a Booker Prize for his book In a Free State. In awarding Naipaul the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, the Swedish Academy praised his work 'for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories. ' The Committee added, 'Naipaul is a modern philosophe carrying on the tradition that started originally with Lettres persanes and Candide. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired, he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony. ' The Committee also noted Naipaul's affinity with the Polish author of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad. His fiction and especially his travel writing have been criticised for their allegedly unsympathetic portrayal of the Third World. Edward Said, for example, has argued that he 'allowed himself quite consciously to be turned into a witness for the Western prosecution', promoting 'colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies'. This perspective is most salient in The Middle Passage, which Naipaul composed after returning to the Caribbean after ten years of self-exile in England, and An Area of Darkness, an arguably stark condemnation on his ancestral homeland of India. His works have become required reading in many schools within the Third World. Among English-speaking countries, Naipaul's following is notably stronger in the United Kingdom than it is in the United States. Though a regular visitor to India since the 1960s, he has arguably 'analysed' India from an arms-length distance, in some cases initially with considerable distaste, and later with 'grudging affection', and of late perhaps even with 'ungrudging affection' He has also made attempts over the decades to identify his ancestral village in India, believed to be near Gorakhpur in Eastern Uttar Pradesh from where his grandfather had migrated to Trinidad as indentured labourer. In several of his books Naipaul has observed Islam, and he has been criticised for dwelling on negative aspects, e. g. nihilism among fundamentalists. Naipaul's support for Hindutva has also been controversial. He has been quoted describing the destruction of the Babri Mosque as a 'creative passion', and the invasion of Babur in the 16th century as a 'mortal wound. ' He views Vijayanagar, which fell in 1565, as the last bastion of native Hindu civilisation. He remains a somewhat reviled figure in Pakistan, which he bitingly condemned in Among the Believers. In 1998 a controversial memoir by Naipaul's sometime protege Paul Theroux was published. The book provides a personal, though occasionally caustic portrait of Naipaul. The memoir, entitled Sir Vidia's Shadow, was precipitated by a falling-out between the two men a few years earlier. In early 2007, V. S Naipaul made a long-awaited return to his homeland of Trinidad. He urged citizens to shrug off the notions of 'Indian' and 'African' and to concentrate on being 'Trinidadian'. He was warmly received by students and intellectuals alike and it seems, finally, that he has come to some form of closure with Trinidad. Naipaul is married to Nadira Naipaul. She was born Nadira Khannum Alvi in Kenya and got married in Pakistan. She worked as a journalist for Pakistani newspaper, The Nation for ten years before meeting Naipaul. They married in 1996, two months after the death of Naipaul's first wife, Patricia Hale. Nadira had been divorced twice before her marriage to Naipaul. She has two children from a previous marriage, Maliha and Nadir.

 

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