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A Bend in the River

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When Salim, a young Indian man, is offered a small business in Central Africa, he accepts. As he strives to establish himself, he becomes closely involved with the fluid and dangerous politics of the newly-dependent state.

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When Salim, a young Indian man, is offered a small business in Central Africa, he accepts. As he strives to establish himself, he becomes closely involved with the fluid and dangerous politics of the newly-dependent state.

30 review for A Bend in the River

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Say there's a bad guy. He's in a book; the book is well-written; fine, there are many books about bad guys. Say further that the book is written by a bad guy. Fine; lots of authors are dicks. Now say that the author is unaware that they're both bad guys. He hasn't written the book he thinks he's written. Now where are you? A Bend in the River's Salim is a bad guy. He's a bully and a coward. He doesn't know that he's a bully and a coward, and VS Naipaul doesn't seem to know either. (view spoiler)[ Say there's a bad guy. He's in a book; the book is well-written; fine, there are many books about bad guys. Say further that the book is written by a bad guy. Fine; lots of authors are dicks. Now say that the author is unaware that they're both bad guys. He hasn't written the book he thinks he's written. Now where are you? A Bend in the River's Salim is a bad guy. He's a bully and a coward. He doesn't know that he's a bully and a coward, and VS Naipaul doesn't seem to know either. (view spoiler)[In the end Salim saves his own skin, abandoning his ward to violence. He seems okay with it. (hide spoiler)] In one part, he savagely beats his mistress. "The back of my hand, from little finger to wrist, was aching; bone had struck bone." She seems okay with it. She calls him later. "Do you want me to come back? The road is quite empty. I can be back in twenty minutes. Oh, Salim. I look dreadful. My face is in an awful state. I will have to hide for days." The passage confused me because, from what I know about people, they don't like being beaten without a safeword. It confused me so much that I wanted to learn more about Naipaul. I had to know what was going through his head when he wrote this passage. I don't do this normally; I think books should be taken on their own terms. But this doesn't ring true for me. It disturbs me. What happened here? What I found was a quote from Naipaul about his own mistress, Margaret Murray: 'I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt...she didn't mind it at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her. Her face was bad. She couldn't really appear in public." So this is where the passage comes from. It's a direct quote from his life; Salim and Naipaul are the same. So this is the truth, right? In its own way? But whose truth? "She didn't mind it at all," they both say, and that still doesn't seem right. It's the truth to Naipaul; is it the truth to Margaret Murray? So I kept looking, and I found a letter from her, in response to the above quote. She says, drily: "Vidia [Naipaul] says I didn’t mind the abuse. I certainly did mind." So Naipaul is not telling the truth; he doesn't have the truth; he doesn't see the truth. He's the villain in his own story and he's incapable of realizing that he's written the villain in this one. And why would we read a book by someone who doesn't recognize truth? It's well-written. It's a well-written book by someone who is incorrect about who he is, what the world is. He's telling two stories: one about Africa, one about people. He doesn't know about Africa; he's only visited. He's certainly a racist. He doesn't know about people, either. The situation is imaginary; he made it up to illustrate his twisted, cynical, violent view of the world. The thing is that this is a good book. The plot is thin, and didn't engage me as much as I'd hope, but the ideas are powerful and disturbing. The writing is something like brilliant. It taught me something about a certain kind of person: the bad kind. To get into the head of someone as corrupt and as devoid of self-awareness as VS Naipaul is, that's interesting and even valuable. He has told the truth; he just doesn't know the truth he's told. Know your enemy, right? Here is the enemy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sunil

    I always find it difficult to talk about the books I really like. Especially so if it is a Naipaul book. I read The Bend again this year and found it much more ensorcelling than first time around . I guess what is so appealing about the book is its sense of diligence, a discipline which attempts to faithfully reflect the emerging world in Africa, as it is. No more no less. Perhaps, this is why, even after half a century and million more theses written on Africa, it still reflects the essence of I always find it difficult to talk about the books I really like. Especially so if it is a Naipaul book. I read The Bend again this year and found it much more ensorcelling than first time around . I guess what is so appealing about the book is its sense of diligence, a discipline which attempts to faithfully reflect the emerging world in Africa, as it is. No more no less. Perhaps, this is why, even after half a century and million more theses written on Africa, it still reflects the essence of Africa as none of them do. I suppose most paperback readers find it inane or even boring. But, bear in mind it's not a transit read. It's not a fiction of plot or story. It is a narrative of reality. And like all realities that are known to man, has no beginning or ending. It is a snapshot of a typical third world problem ie a recently independent state or culture desparately trying to hold onto something as its own in the wake of emerging post-modernism. But it never has or had anything of its own, anything that would give it an identity in the contemporary world apart from the history of having been a colony. Therefore it tries to manufacture a past – leaders, tribes, dances, cameraderie. Oh! the vanities, the denials, the insecurities, amidst all that is forming and unforming, changing choices, conflicting values. But it is what it is. Then there is the beauty of Naipaul prose. God! How it flows. Delicate, sublime, perfect yet letting the reader to make his own mind without patronizing or simplifying the sentiment. What I found most incredible in the book is the style used to pastiche the complex reality, so unhurriedly, so gracefully; as the book moves forward, it feels like a wave slowly falling and receding on a shore – adding something to the before, yet taking away something after; letting all the voices to speak on their own terms, to express their own realities to ultimately add up a grand reality that none of them can access in toto. Here is a wonderful instance – Indar is so ashamed of his third world identity that he desparately wants to trample his own past… ‘It isn’t easy to turn your back on the past. It isn’t something you can decide to do just like that. It is something you arm yourself for, or grief will ambush and destroy you. And Raymond with his first world citizenship, so much yearns for the True Africa that his own past has no bearing on his personal life. This leads to his wife's discontent and her confusion. Here's Raymond musing on Africa.. I was sitting in my room and thinking with sadness about all the things that have gone unrecorded. Do you think we can ever get to know the truth about what has happened in Africa in the last hundred or even fifty years? All the wars, all the rebellions, all the leaders, all the defeats? It doesn’t occur to you when you are reading it but as you move along, as the impressions of their characters are better formed , suddenly, somewhere in the next chapter perhaps, it occurs to you , that these two completely different men from completely different worlds are so unknowingly seeking each other’s past. They are only allowed to seek, ...Indar seducing Yvette or Raymond wanting to be Mommsen of Africa .., but never find. But they cant give up. Hence the world is what it is, always in movement.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    I read this book in Central Africa, during my Peace Corps service. I maintain that it is the best, most accurate depiction of Central African society - a broad term, believe me, I know, but still - that I have read. I found this novel engrossing and moving, and it inspired me to begin collecting Naipaul's other works; all of which are good, albeit not as good as this one. Naipaul has been criticized for denigrating third world countries and societies. Strange, since he comes from one - he was born I read this book in Central Africa, during my Peace Corps service. I maintain that it is the best, most accurate depiction of Central African society - a broad term, believe me, I know, but still - that I have read. I found this novel engrossing and moving, and it inspired me to begin collecting Naipaul's other works; all of which are good, albeit not as good as this one. Naipaul has been criticized for denigrating third world countries and societies. Strange, since he comes from one - he was born in Trinidad but lives today in the UK - but the truth is that Naipaul's greatest sin is, as is too often the case, simply telling the truth. Many characters in this book, for example, feign sophistication they don't have, views they've lifted verbatim from a news clipping which they don't really understand at all, and in many other ways try to grapple with a modern world that is utterly beyond anything they comprehend, as they have only a village-level perspective on the world. These characterizations make liberal white people sitting in the West uncomfortable; but that's their problem, and - like those characters - arise primarily from a lack of perspective of what life is really like on the third-world side.

  4. 5 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    My copy of this book is a POB (previously owned book). There are a lot of scribbles using different colors of highlighters (pink, yellow and green). In one of the pages is a name: Danielle Sidari. I googled her name yesterday and one of these days I will invite her to be my friend in Facebook. Who knows? Anyway, it is my first time to read a book with a lot of scribbles. Danielle is not a bad reader. Rather her comments and the phrases she underlined seem to indicate that she is smart. There is j My copy of this book is a POB (previously owned book). There are a lot of scribbles using different colors of highlighters (pink, yellow and green). In one of the pages is a name: Danielle Sidari. I googled her name yesterday and one of these days I will invite her to be my friend in Facebook. Who knows? Anyway, it is my first time to read a book with a lot of scribbles. Danielle is not a bad reader. Rather her comments and the phrases she underlined seem to indicate that she is smart. There is just a page (p 191) where she wrote: "Ironic" and this is the part where the narrator, Salim says that he finds adultery as horrible when in fact he is sleeping with a friend's wife, Yvette. Danielle seemed to have missed what Naipaul wrote on page 197, just 6 pages away from the line she finds ironic: "That (adultery) was my pride. It was also my shame, to have reduced my manhood just to that. There were times, especially during slack periods in the shop, when I sat at my desk (Yvette's photographs in the drawer) and found myself mourning. Mourning, in the midst of physical fulfillment which could not have been more complete! There was a time when I wouldn't have thought it possible." However, this novel is a lot more than adultery. This is the 1979 novel that established V. S. Naipaul, 2001 Nobel laurate, as a literary force. This is about an unnamed African country (they say it is Democratic Republic of Congo previously known as Zaire) after it gained independence from Belgium in June 1960. As for its theme, the opening line seems to be saying it all: The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it. The transfer of power from Belgium to the "Big Man" (they say this is President Mabutu Sese Seko) is a struggle in itself that reminds me of the transfer of power from Marcos to Aquino in 1986. But life has to go on and for me this is the overall theme of this book: the changing of time. There is a very nice allegory that opens the second chapter "The New Domain": "If you look at a column of ants on the march you will see that there are some who are stragglers or have lost their way. The column has no time for them; it goes on. Sometimes the stragglers die. But even this has no effect on the column. There is a little disturbance around the corpse, which is eventually carried off- and then it appears so light. And all the times the great busyness continues, and the apparent socialibility, that rite of meeting and greeting which ants travelling in opposite directions, to and from their nest, perform without fail." The above passage reminds me of how I was fascinated watching ants when I was a small child. This book is almost perfect but there is just one line that spoiled it for me. On page 186, I lost a bit of respect for Naipaul as he wrote: "But if women weren't stupid the world wouldn't go round" Danielle put a pink question mark on this. I hate sexist people. I do not have respect for men who belittle women. I have many women in my life and I love them all: my mother, my (only) wife, my daughter, my sister, my mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law, my grandmother, my aunts, my many cousins, my friends, my officemates, etc. Hence, I am giving this a two stars less than amazing. For the love of women in my humble life.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Beautiful, multi-layered story, set in an unnamed African country, but very simular to the Congo or Zaïre in the time of dictator Mobutu. The storyteller, Salim, is of Indian origin, and takes over a shop in a town, deep inland, (by a bend in the river), just after independence. He observes the waves of unrest and uncertainty and the rise of a Great Man in the capital. You can read this novel as a lucid political story (the making of a gruesome dictator, and how different people cope with it), a Beautiful, multi-layered story, set in an unnamed African country, but very simular to the Congo or Zaïre in the time of dictator Mobutu. The storyteller, Salim, is of Indian origin, and takes over a shop in a town, deep inland, (by a bend in the river), just after independence. He observes the waves of unrest and uncertainty and the rise of a Great Man in the capital. You can read this novel as a lucid political story (the making of a gruesome dictator, and how different people cope with it), a fine psychological story (the search for its own place in life and the desillusions accompanying it), an exploration of the African soul (though Naipaul can be very stereotypical about that), and a study on cultural interaction or non-interaction. This novel reminded me of the better work of Graham Greene, but without the morality-layer. There also was a bit too much of Conrads 'Heart of Darkness' ("the horror, the horror") in it. I know he hasn't a good reputation when it comes to racism and other issues, but I definitely have to read more by Naipaul!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rowena

    This book had such a promising start. Naipaul's descriptions of mid-20th Century Africa were great and I think he did a terrific job of highlighting tribalism and what it must feel like to be considered an outsider in Africa. There weren't too many likeable characters in this book. I started off liking Salim because he was a young Indian man who left his home on the coast to go to a town along old slave trails. However, his sexism was too much for me. Obviously Naipaul feels Africa is a dark con This book had such a promising start. Naipaul's descriptions of mid-20th Century Africa were great and I think he did a terrific job of highlighting tribalism and what it must feel like to be considered an outsider in Africa. There weren't too many likeable characters in this book. I started off liking Salim because he was a young Indian man who left his home on the coast to go to a town along old slave trails. However, his sexism was too much for me. Obviously Naipaul feels Africa is a dark continent with no hope for the future, I'm not sure why this book features so often on African book lists. Edited to add: I don't think I will be reading anymore Naipaul books. He is under the impression that there is not a single female writer, both living or dead, who can measure up to him. I can think of more than a few, sir :/

  7. 4 out of 5

    Books Ring Mah Bell

    4/30 here we go.... I hear it sucks. 5/7/09 A total snoozefest. Naipaul is a Nobel Prize winner? That's crust! I did a bit of research on Naipaul as I was reading this thinking, "are you freaking kidding me?!?!" Rave reviews in Newsweek, New York Times.. and on and on and on. The Nobel Committee compared Naipaul to Joseph Conrad, saying, "Naipaul is Conrad's heir." Maybe that's just me sticking up for Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness (and fellow Pole!) Or perhaps it's just me recognizing subpar lit 4/30 here we go.... I hear it sucks. 5/7/09 A total snoozefest. Naipaul is a Nobel Prize winner? That's crust! I did a bit of research on Naipaul as I was reading this thinking, "are you freaking kidding me?!?!" Rave reviews in Newsweek, New York Times.. and on and on and on. The Nobel Committee compared Naipaul to Joseph Conrad, saying, "Naipaul is Conrad's heir." Maybe that's just me sticking up for Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness (and fellow Pole!) Or perhaps it's just me recognizing subpar literature for what it is. *The best part of this book was a sticky note on page 200 that said, "I can't believe you made it this far" Thanks, D. Russ!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave Russell

    This is a lousy boring book. Naipaul seems very interested in telling us How The World Works, or at least how it works in Africa (he does know Africa is a continent and not a country, right?) The problem, though, is that this is ostensibly a novel and not a work of non-fiction, and Naipaul isn't a very good storyteller. He mostly narrates rather than dramatizes. There are long, long passages where there is no dialogue, which would be all right if something interesting actually happened in those This is a lousy boring book. Naipaul seems very interested in telling us How The World Works, or at least how it works in Africa (he does know Africa is a continent and not a country, right?) The problem, though, is that this is ostensibly a novel and not a work of non-fiction, and Naipaul isn't a very good storyteller. He mostly narrates rather than dramatizes. There are long, long passages where there is no dialogue, which would be all right if something interesting actually happened in those passages. I always thought it was a shame that Kurt Vonnegut never won the Nobel Prize for Literature. After having read Jelinek's The Piano Teacher and now this book, I think that actually speaks well for Vonnegut. Oh, and great idea using a river as your central symbol. I don't think that's ever been done before.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    The news that V.S. Naipal had won the Nobel Prize for Literature came shortly after the shocking events of 9-11. The Wall Street Journal hailed the news and editorialized that Naipal was especially worthy as a third world author who embraced the values of the west. Quoting A BEND IN THE RIVER, the Journal argued that Naipal's message is that men in the third world should be judged by the same standards as men in the industrialized west. For some reason, the Journal's assessment of A BEND IN THE The news that V.S. Naipal had won the Nobel Prize for Literature came shortly after the shocking events of 9-11. The Wall Street Journal hailed the news and editorialized that Naipal was especially worthy as a third world author who embraced the values of the west. Quoting A BEND IN THE RIVER, the Journal argued that Naipal's message is that men in the third world should be judged by the same standards as men in the industrialized west. For some reason, the Journal's assessment of A BEND IN THE RIVER was on my mind as I read it the past several days. It does seem likely that Naipal would have sympathy for the notion that humankind everywhere should be judged by the same standards. He favors that those standards should reflect certain, not all, western political values. This is most vivid as he rejects the common view that everything about colonialism in Africa was evil, even offering an apology for slavery that is reminiscent of Aristotle's defense of slavery in the Ethics. (Aristotle describes the slave's role in a happy household as one of respect and importance . . . huh? But Naipal describes traditional slavery in east Africa in similar terms.) But that is not Naipaul's central message. A BEND IN THE RIVER explores the Hobbesian view that, in his natural state, each man is at war with every other man. That state of nature has been realized in times of civil war in post-colonial central Africa and Naipal's depiction of it is terrifying. Hobbes' solution to this horrifying natural state is for men to surrender their autonomy to a strong king who is given near absolute authority in exchange for order, security and safety. This solution has been attempted in post-colonial central Africa. Naipal's "Big Man" is just such a leader. But in late 20th century central Africa, he cannot guarantee his own safety against tribalism and violence, much less the safety of the populace. His government becomes only slightly less horrifying than no government at all. When I search for a message, I conclude that Naipal is wondering about the role of institutions in moderating the behavior of humans. He acknowledges that the institutions of colonialism protected the populace against violence, whereas the post-colonial politics of central Africa have failed to create such institutions. This is not an argument for colonialism. Rather, it is an inquiry about institutions and their role in protecting humankind from our natural state, as Hobbes' envisions it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    The book examines the post-colonial turmoil that occurs in an unnamed African country soon after it's independence. However, this isn't a political thriller. Naipaul takes his time with the story and the pace is fairly leasurely as the both the setting and the characters are introduced and then developed in great detail. The main character is Salim, a man of ethnic Indian descent who relocates to a small town in the central African country. There he buys a small shop, makes friends with other ex The book examines the post-colonial turmoil that occurs in an unnamed African country soon after it's independence. However, this isn't a political thriller. Naipaul takes his time with the story and the pace is fairly leasurely as the both the setting and the characters are introduced and then developed in great detail. The main character is Salim, a man of ethnic Indian descent who relocates to a small town in the central African country. There he buys a small shop, makes friends with other expatriates, and observes the birth pains of his newly adopted country. A minor rebellion is quickly crushed and the newly elected President begins to consolidate his power and become more and more dictatorial as time passes. The tension does ratchet up towards the end of the book The leasurely pace allows Naipaul to paint a complex picture of this slice of Africa. The culture is described in great detail and you get a feel for the town and it's people. The uneasy mix of modernality and traditional ways stands out quite often: a BigBurger franchise sits near market stalls where caterpillars, grubs, and monkeys can be bought for food. Throughout it all, the vestiges of the colonial past are still apparent. The town is dotted with the burned out ruins of the homes of the European masters who were tossed out when independence was achieved and their statues have been torn down or defaced. Naipaul has been accused of being pro-colonialism because it's not a happy picture he paints. Corruption is rampant and bribes become the only way to get things done. The number of Government officials seems to increase almost daily and many of them often have little to do except to think of new ways to shake the foreign residents down for bribes. Through it all, the President's rhetoric takes on more and more the trappings of demagoguery. It's not a happy picture, but it's a scenario that has played out in real life a few too many times.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    The characters felt like matchstick figures to me, somehow devoid of real life. I am not sure why though. The story is powerful and the flow of history is overwhelming, but I couldn't connect and experience it with them, and that was off-putting.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Onaiza Khan

    This is a very powerful novel. With his simple, poetic and effortless style, Naipul builds a world with very strong foundations. The characters are extremely well developed and speak personally to the reader. The political situation and the personal dilemmas flow beautifully as part of a plain narrative of a simple man. It can also be considered deeply philosophical. Sometimes the book echoes the concept of the absurdity of Camus and other times of Schopenhauer's will to live.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Genia Lukin

    Why do people read this creep? Why do they indulge him, give him prizes, accolades, titles? How is this man's being the darling of the literary establishment not screaming to the world of a huge problem that we have in our priorities, in our regard, in our purported striving for equality or, I don't know, something. Here is a man who writes 19th Century sentiment - really, more of an 18th Marquis de Sadian sentiment - in the middle of the 20th, and no one in the establishment that doles out Nobels Why do people read this creep? Why do they indulge him, give him prizes, accolades, titles? How is this man's being the darling of the literary establishment not screaming to the world of a huge problem that we have in our priorities, in our regard, in our purported striving for equality or, I don't know, something. Here is a man who writes 19th Century sentiment - really, more of an 18th Marquis de Sadian sentiment - in the middle of the 20th, and no one in the establishment that doles out Nobels, Bookers, and knighthoods, seems to mind. Here is a man who apparently brutally beats his own mistress, but instead of going to jail and being forgotten there, like he should, he exemplifies post-colonial writing. The hell, world? So, is the man actually a good writer? Yeah, I guess he is. I did finish the book, aside from an undisclosed amount of glossing, after all. Is he a better writer than the women writers he derides? Eh, nope. Is he Nobel-worthy? I can't answer that because in my opinion half the Nobel laureates out there weren't, but he's no Nabokov, okay? That's not the issue at hand. The issue at hand is that this man is harmful, destructive. not in the passive well-he-does-no-good-to-anyone-and-is-an-ass sort of way, but in the actual, intentional, egomaniacal sort of way that actively goes out there and makes the world a slightly worse place than it's been before. His books, and the establishment's promotion of them, actually outright wreck the world. They say that loving your wife and caring about what she thinks is stunting (yes, he says that, or his main character and narrator does), and that beating your mistress is a natural result of jealousy towards her husband. They imply that a little nobody with zero personality can automatically get the good-looking girl, and that he can then spit at her, and this is a cathartic scene. So here is my call out to the men and especially women of this world - don't rate his books highly, don't recommend them, don't forgive them based upon the 'beauty of the style'. The beauty isn't sufficient, and the harm is great.

  14. 5 out of 5

    lucky little cat

    This was my college's required summer reading for incoming freshmen back in 1981. It gave me altogether wrong expectations of how culturally aware my tiny liberal arts school was. And of course no one else had read the book, not even the group counselor, so it was a classic summer-reading experience!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pradnya K.

    I'd have loved to writ a detailed review of this book. Since the day I bought it in a pre-owned book shop till today, it was always on my mind. It was my first Naipaul book. Many say that it's not his best one, and I see why he keeps his readers hooked. It's a story of a Salim, an Indian, who travels to Africa to try his luck and make some money and identity for himself. The story progresses with history of Africa, how the unnamed country undergoes the changes under rulers in post-colonial years I'd have loved to writ a detailed review of this book. Since the day I bought it in a pre-owned book shop till today, it was always on my mind. It was my first Naipaul book. Many say that it's not his best one, and I see why he keeps his readers hooked. It's a story of a Salim, an Indian, who travels to Africa to try his luck and make some money and identity for himself. The story progresses with history of Africa, how the unnamed country undergoes the changes under rulers in post-colonial years. Salim, as an outsider observes it and without realizing becomes an inescapable part of it. The book is mostly about the daily lives of the shopkeeper, his quest to be something and be safe, his companions and their lives. The Africans don't make protagonist here. For me the best part was the interpretation of man's quest of being someone important, his ambitions. I see all the characters of the story trying to get there : the President, a big man, going beyond measures and any logic, just to become a powerful person. Then Indar, a childhood friend of Salim, who after losing his wealth during the rebels, searching for his prominence, mostly in the Uniform of government. There's Ferdinand, always finding something superior about himself, and playing it downright at every chance (except in the end, he turns out very matured person there) Zabeth, mother of Ferdinand, equipped with mysterious powers Africans are so well known for, making her living by merchandising daily needed articles. And Salim himself, an educated person with high aims, unable to achieve his goals who comes to this town near the bend in the river, accepting it and almost rooted there when these all characters come to him with their stories, provoking him, compelling him to be something else than what he is. The book is opulent with philosophical dialogues and thoughts. I have kept marker handy all the time after first half. The struggle of man to find peace, either to enjoy his status quo or to pursue his dreams is man's ultimate desire. The upheavals in history and rulers can disturb this basic need and how far it can impact the society is portrayed vividly. I found it quite complex, weaving mesh of history, philosophy, ethnicity, societal and modern times, with less of story and much of impact, something I love to read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Buck

    A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul - This is a memoir of a shopkeeper of Indian descent in a town with no name on a bend in the river in a fictional post-colonial country in central Africa. The writing is dull; the story, what little there is of it, drags. I continually was thinking about abandoning this book, as not being worth the effort to read, but I persevered and finished it. Finally, at the very end of the book, the level of interest improves. Things become politically dangerous for the A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul - This is a memoir of a shopkeeper of Indian descent in a town with no name on a bend in the river in a fictional post-colonial country in central Africa. The writing is dull; the story, what little there is of it, drags. I continually was thinking about abandoning this book, as not being worth the effort to read, but I persevered and finished it. Finally, at the very end of the book, the level of interest improves. Things become politically dangerous for the shopkeeper, so he leaves. V.S. Naipaul won a Nobel prize. Unbelievable. This book surely had nothing to do with that.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ami

    Naipaul, despite being so highly revered, is quite possibly more of an ass than Ernest Hemingway. Character flaws aside, this book was a bit slow and I didn't see the significance it promised.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Lentz

    I suppose it's inevitable that readers will compare Naipaul's view of the bush to Joseph Conrad's. Naipaul portrays an ancient African civilization coming to grips with the intrusion of modern society thrust by economic boom into its midst. So the merchants and business traders take the steamer up the river to a bend where the New Africa is emerging. However, deep and primitive aggressions always seem to surface perhaps because they are so imbedded into man's warrior instincts. And the New Afric I suppose it's inevitable that readers will compare Naipaul's view of the bush to Joseph Conrad's. Naipaul portrays an ancient African civilization coming to grips with the intrusion of modern society thrust by economic boom into its midst. So the merchants and business traders take the steamer up the river to a bend where the New Africa is emerging. However, deep and primitive aggressions always seem to surface perhaps because they are so imbedded into man's warrior instincts. And the New Africa cannot seem to get beyond this to create a society in which peace and justice prevail. The irony is that such qualities exist elsewhere among more advanced societies, as well: society can't seem to transcend its own penchant for violence. Perhaps, that's because beneath the veneer of the human persona there lies a heart of darkness. Mankind's inability to cope with its brutality and baser instincts represent a challenge not only in the bush. It's a universal battle royal that Naipaul's insightful and brilliantly written novel epitomizes. This author is a worthy Nobel laureate for his work over a period of decades.

  19. 4 out of 5

    AC

    I listened to this on audible, while driving. I don't drive that much - and I've had to use much of my driving time for more pressing items. So this took me forever. But I listened to it so closely, that rather than losing the thread, it was like reading it twice. Naipaul's voice is a voice of such genuine intelligence and clarity -- such a human sympathy for characters and such a careful grasp of plotting -- that I was immediately awed by it. If you've never read this, then you have a treat in I listened to this on audible, while driving. I don't drive that much - and I've had to use much of my driving time for more pressing items. So this took me forever. But I listened to it so closely, that rather than losing the thread, it was like reading it twice. Naipaul's voice is a voice of such genuine intelligence and clarity -- such a human sympathy for characters and such a careful grasp of plotting -- that I was immediately awed by it. If you've never read this, then you have a treat in store. Nadine Gordimer says Mr. Biswas is even better, though. I know that Naipaul himself is a controversial figure -- but he is a wonderful writer. A natural. (This is going to be my current drive-time listen -- and so far, it has quite grabbed me. Clarity of prose and clarity of mind...)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    This was really, really good. The story felt very familiar, as I had read Michela Wrong's book on the Mobutu regime recently (this novel takes place in an unnamed country which is clearly Zaire, in the years after the end of the colonial regime). Naipaul writes about identities here: national, ethnic, human, male. His characters struggle for status or supremacy, or even just a little dignity. His themes are Africa vs. Europe, African vs. Indian vs. white, educated vs. uneducated, developed and u This was really, really good. The story felt very familiar, as I had read Michela Wrong's book on the Mobutu regime recently (this novel takes place in an unnamed country which is clearly Zaire, in the years after the end of the colonial regime). Naipaul writes about identities here: national, ethnic, human, male. His characters struggle for status or supremacy, or even just a little dignity. His themes are Africa vs. Europe, African vs. Indian vs. white, educated vs. uneducated, developed and undeveloped, master and servant/slave. The writing is superb.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kate Z

    I was going to read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I really really was. But even though I have really liked most of the recent books I've read I feel like I've become this read-bot just reading all these indie bookstore picks by American authors. I just had to jump out of my rut and read something ELSE. I read Half A Life a few years ago and enjoyed it in that "I like anti-colonialism literature" kind of way and I've had A Bend In the River sitting on my shelf since then. It promises to be nega I was going to read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I really really was. But even though I have really liked most of the recent books I've read I feel like I've become this read-bot just reading all these indie bookstore picks by American authors. I just had to jump out of my rut and read something ELSE. I read Half A Life a few years ago and enjoyed it in that "I like anti-colonialism literature" kind of way and I've had A Bend In the River sitting on my shelf since then. It promises to be negative and misogynistic and anti-colonial ... and decidedly not an "Indie pick" and right now that's what I'm going for. I recently read the interview with V.S. Naipaul where much was made of his statement that no female writer can hold a candle to him and that he can tell if something is written by a female just by reading the first paragraph. I took the subsequent survey to see if I could identify female writers by one paragraph - presumably by their simpering, overly emotional tone or diction (I scored 4/10 and the quiz told me I needed to read more). That was a big factor in my motivation to read this book. I vividly remember a discussion about "character novels" where nothing really happens but a character is layed out, flayed, and dissected from tip to toe. I said I liked novels like that. A Bend in the River fits into this category - with one major qualification - and it's made me change my stance on those so-called character novels. To back up a bit, when I taught high school English I used to admonish students that whenever you see a river as a major piece of setting in a novel you should immediately think "life". River = life. It's one of the main metaphors. Add to that a certain amount of eye rolling. River = life. Okay, move on. This novel is titled "A Bend In The River". If you bear the above metaphor in mind, that tells you just about everything you need to understand about the novel, save one thing. Salim, the main character, an Indian who has moved from the coast of Africa to the interior (the "heart" of Africa) at "A Bend In The River". The tension of this novel on it's most basic level is between being a "new man of Africa" or a "man of new Africa". This is a post-colonial Africa struggling to (re)define itself. There's more to it in the details but that's the gist. I'm glad I read it but I'm also glad to be moving on. I would recommend this book to very few people. The writing didn't "wow" me and the rest, from the imagery, the tone, the characterization was just just what I expected.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    I don't normally select books from the political genre, but Naipaul is such a good writer I'll eventually read all his works. I'm still thinking through this one, and I'm simply going to list several quotes that hit me as being worth considering in today's world. *"...a government that breaks its own laws can also easily break you. Your business associate today can be your jailer or worse tomorrow." Currently, here in America, members of the military are being kicked out/deported, etc. Now, any s I don't normally select books from the political genre, but Naipaul is such a good writer I'll eventually read all his works. I'm still thinking through this one, and I'm simply going to list several quotes that hit me as being worth considering in today's world. *"...a government that breaks its own laws can also easily break you. Your business associate today can be your jailer or worse tomorrow." Currently, here in America, members of the military are being kicked out/deported, etc. Now, any student of the American Revolution knows that those soldiers born in American didn't win the Revolution on their own: immigrants, especially people like Alexander Hamilton (a Founding Father who wasn't born on American soil who went on to develop one of the worlds most powerful financial system), not to mention LaFayette from France, who brought with him a navy to help America win independence. We NEED immigrants (language/diversity skill, etc) like we NEED allies. I do not know the extent of these military deportations, and must admit that this issue could be one that has been in play since the American Revolution. But current interviews of deported military associates indicate confusion. More fake news? I don't know. *"It isn't that there's no right and wrong here. There's no right," says the narrator about a newly formed government in Africa. 'That was what had happened to me,' thinks the narrator to himself. Imagine realizing that about one's own self. The narrator then decides to leave Africa. Will he make it out alive? That's the basis of the final fifth of the book. And, if he makes it out alive, will he be able to determine, in a future life in another place, what's right and what's wrong? But let me say there is clearly much that is RIGHT with America since I'm drawing comparisons. Social programs to help the hungry, Obama's great health care act of which I'm a member and without that act I can't get insurance at all as I have a pre-existing condition that is deadly. In summary, it's true I don't know very much about political history in Africa. But I did, while reading this book, view varying sources such as wikipedia to add to my understanding of the book. And the best thing about this book is how, even though we don't like the narrator, we still root for the narrator to escape with his life.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dhruv Kandhari

    'A Bend in The River' is a 1979 historical novel written by Nobel Laureate Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, set in an unnamed town in Africa at a bend in the great river, after independence. The novel is narrated by Salim, an ethnically Indian Muslim man, a shopkeeper who believes 'the world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.', and he arrives in this part of Africa, a land of the exploited and a broken piece of nowhere, where political 'A Bend in The River' is a 1979 historical novel written by Nobel Laureate Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, set in an unnamed town in Africa at a bend in the great river, after independence. The novel is narrated by Salim, an ethnically Indian Muslim man, a shopkeeper who believes 'the world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.', and he arrives in this part of Africa, a land of the exploited and a broken piece of nowhere, where political turmoil, and a hellish future is growing.

Salim, buys a business from Nazruddin, who sold him the shop cheap, giving a modicum of relief to the relentless insecurity that had lingered over Salim. Little does he know, what kind of life awaits him at the heart of Africa. Initially, the business is slow, but the town is growing, and as each day passes with the hope of tomorrow's future, a certain balance starts to enter Salim's life, as the shop starts to sell its goods and he meets Zabeth The Magician. 
He befriends few people, with whom he socialises multiple times, Zabeth The Magician and her son Ferdinand, Mahesh and Shoba- the unique Indian couple with a blemished past behind them, Metty who returns from his old hometown to meet Salim and join him, his childhood friend Indar who returns a changed man from his university in London, Raymond and Yvette, Salim is constantly affected by all of them and a struggle for identity and survival ensues, and gives rise to inevitable chaos. 
The novel starts off slowly, and Naipaul dives into the sea of the day to day life quotidian details-the trade and the sale, the roots of the commerce, the food, the lustfulness, the happiness and the sadness, the slavery, and the haunting depiction of nature - the poetry seamlessly flowing in the bleak landscapes of historical barren lands, The River flowing eternally through the coast warming and cooling the atmosphere, the red paved roads with a rising mountain of rubbish and garbage, distempered walls and blood scattered roads, all amounting to a geographical and historical narrative of the world seen through African eyes and the emotion felt by the African soul, darkened by the pain and terror of exploitation and repression. 
The setting moves from one place to another, creating virtual and metaphysical contrasting images of different worlds existing in a country, the blood of rich and poor spilled and flowing in a country ruled by corrupt agencies and self destructive sociopaths, broken by the invaders and manipulators of history, the West dominating the East, The Van Der Weyden building, and the police stations with their aboriginal prisons, and a separate wild world of the Bushes simply referred to as 'The Bush' which sheltered the tribes from being slaughtered by the pseudo progressive officials and militia. 
The novel is a narrative of reality, and sets into motion, a textual poetry of its own unique taste and genre, as Naipaul's prose starts to enter the flesh and blood of the reader, constantly invigorating and addictive and it would be an understatement to say that Naipaul is a literary sorcerer, in the manner in which he writes each word and makes its important felt is something that is a near impossible feat to achieve. 
After reading V.S. Naipaul's two of the most acclaimed and revered masterpieces: 'A House for Mr. Biswas' and 'A Bend in The River', I can finally say that when I read ' A House for Mr. Biswas' I was enamoured of that novel but at that time I also felt that if V.S. Naipaul is recognised as a literary star through this novel which is undoubtedly masterful, then why is Salman Rushdie being ignored for the Nobel Prize in Literature as being too popular (verbatim by Nobel Committee) ? but now after ' A Bend in The River' I realise that this is what gave him the Nobel Prize in Literature, Naipaul's prose is his towering achievement, believe me not a single word in this 325 page novel is uneventful or clumsy or even indulgent, and I was absorbed and rushed to finish this novel within 3 days. 
2001 Nobel Prize in Literature, 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. Naipaul is a modern philosopher 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. Naipaul is Conrad's heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in the memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished."
It is undoubtedly well deserved, and I must say 'A Bend in The River' is a Conradian masterpiece which, if Conrad and Tolstoy would have been alive today, they would surely have regarded Naipaul as their successor epitomising the definition of a masterful and unbiased novelist. 
'A Bend in The River' is truly Naipaul's philosophical and literary magnum opus which parallels 'Heart of Darkness' in every step on a sentence by sentence level with a flawless and perfect prose. It stands out as a piece of art and cements itself as one of the greatest novels ever written. 
A terrifying and obsessively gripping novel that changes the way we look at the world and the history that shrouds it. 
"The world is what it is; men who are nothing, men who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it."
-V.S. Naipaul, 'A Bend in The River'
5/5


  24. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    A BEND IN THE RIVER. (1979). V. S. Naipaul. ****. Naipaul (b. 1932) has attempted to encapsulate the full spectrum of a country’s evolution in this excellent effort. The transition from a bush-league country to the beginnings of a world power is fully explored much like his hero Conrad did in many of his works. Naipaul was born in Trinidad of Indian parents. He was educated in England, and soon opted to follow the life of a writer over those that might have beckoned to him from his studies. He ha A BEND IN THE RIVER. (1979). V. S. Naipaul. ****. Naipaul (b. 1932) has attempted to encapsulate the full spectrum of a country’s evolution in this excellent effort. The transition from a bush-league country to the beginnings of a world power is fully explored much like his hero Conrad did in many of his works. Naipaul was born in Trinidad of Indian parents. He was educated in England, and soon opted to follow the life of a writer over those that might have beckoned to him from his studies. He has written a long litany of books – both fiction and nonfiction – and seems to have covered a broad spectrum of mans’ ambitions in both the social and political spheres. In this novel, he uses his narrator/protagonist, Mr. Salim as the observer/recorder of the transition of a native Africa into a modern nation. The story will seem familiar, but Naipaul approaches his subject by its effects on individuals within his small community. It is never specifically mentioned, but literary sleuths seem to have pin-pointed the action of his novel in Kimkasha on the Congo River. There is the ultimate destination of Mr. Salim, who buys out a small business there to start and maintain what he believes will be his life. What this does, however, is give him a chance to view the changes in the country that were happening around him as they guided the lives of his fellow adventurers. This work is extremely well done and provides a master plot for such changes in political leaderships throughout the world. Mr. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    This book contains one of the great opening lines: The World is what it is: men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it. It isn't long before the reader realizes that Africa is The World writ large, that this crepuscular leviathan of raw nature, beautiful and brutal, shrugs off civilization's efforts to restrain her like so many flea-bites. In an unnamed town—Kisangani—in an unnamed country—the Congo—under the boot of the Big Man—Mobutu—Salim arrives from the This book contains one of the great opening lines: The World is what it is: men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it. It isn't long before the reader realizes that Africa is The World writ large, that this crepuscular leviathan of raw nature, beautiful and brutal, shrugs off civilization's efforts to restrain her like so many flea-bites. In an unnamed town—Kisangani—in an unnamed country—the Congo—under the boot of the Big Man—Mobutu—Salim arrives from the east coast, from British colonies where the Indian subclass functioned like Central African Jews. The town on the river bend is part of the bizarre, throbbing, exciting blend of modernity and tribal sorcery that the Big Man has concocted to sell the world, and his ethnic- and tribe-riven people, that his domain is now ready for prime time. Salim is part of the foreign contingent of the town—Europeans, Asians, Americans—valiantly endeavoring not to allow themselves to become nothing—scheming, trading, brawling, cheating, fucking, arguing, amassing money, spreading ideas—whilst the iron fist of the Big Man and his unifying ideology and the relentless pressure of the eternal jungle bear down and threaten to crush all life from these puny trespassers and their ridiculous, ephemeral ambitions and dreams. Probably my favorite book by Naipaul.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Raghu

    This is my most favorite novel from V.S.Naipaul. In fact, the novel's setting and progress is such that when one reads it many years it was written, which is what I did, one can realize how prophetic and perceptive it is about Africa and its future after colonialism ends there. Naipaul is analytical and thoroghly unsentimental and consequently, he is rather pessimistic about Africa's resurgence with the end of colonialism, contrary to what many liberals believed. The story is absorbing, tracing This is my most favorite novel from V.S.Naipaul. In fact, the novel's setting and progress is such that when one reads it many years it was written, which is what I did, one can realize how prophetic and perceptive it is about Africa and its future after colonialism ends there. Naipaul is analytical and thoroghly unsentimental and consequently, he is rather pessimistic about Africa's resurgence with the end of colonialism, contrary to what many liberals believed. The story is absorbing, tracing the fortunes of a young Indian (but born in Africa) shopkeeper in a country which Naipaul does not actually name. But it is common wisdom that he implies Zaire as the setting. The story follows the 'big man' who assumes power (as it always was in post-colonial Africa) and how things gradually deteriorate. Naipaul has many insights into Africa and life in general. The prose is superb as it is always with Naipaul. Anyone wanting to get to know Naipaul and his writings can start with this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    The story of this young Indian trader living in Zaire at the time of Mobutu is well told and very close to reality; I have first hand knowledge of the situation as well as timing, having lived in West Africa for almost 40 years, in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria shortly after Independence of these countries. The end of law and order, and invariably the beginning of tribal wars and military coups. This book was a great pleasure to read, bringing back many memories to my mind.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mikela

    Thought provoking...profound...sad...excellent read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David M

    The first Naipaul I've ever read. Lives up to his reputation, both for racism and for incandescent prose. The first sentence is justly famous; one of the greatest opening lines to any novel I can think of. The very last sentence is likewise frightening and strange. Naipaul - at least in this book - is not just some mediocre bigoted hugely overrated crank like Saul Bellow; his misanthropy seems born of a deep traumatic contact with the world.

  30. 4 out of 5

    marie

    This is a novel of postcolonial Africa, like Things Fall Apart, but it is more complex, dense and more packed with ideas. I couldn't relate to the topic, found myself laboring to finish it, and I have realized that I will now choose the next 1001 books I read with more care as to theme. (African postcolonialism isn't one of my priorities. Such a theme seems dated, somehow, although doubtless with all that's happening in that continent when I read the news this novel still holds true in parts of This is a novel of postcolonial Africa, like Things Fall Apart, but it is more complex, dense and more packed with ideas. I couldn't relate to the topic, found myself laboring to finish it, and I have realized that I will now choose the next 1001 books I read with more care as to theme. (African postcolonialism isn't one of my priorities. Such a theme seems dated, somehow, although doubtless with all that's happening in that continent when I read the news this novel still holds true in parts of Africa, even if it was written in 1979). The central character of the novel is Salim, a Muslim of Indian descent who goes to a town at the bend of a river of an unnamed African nation to trade. The town he migrates to is precisely described in great detail, and there isn't much to recommend it. The backdrop is depressing and in general the book is that, too. The country's future is dim, and so is Salim's. His life just lurches here and there, with no direction. The graft and petty cruelties endemic in an ancient culture that's coping with Western influences, the African dictator who imposes his ego on his countrymen, the swirl of ideas on what's best for Africans and their culture under these conditions, is presented subtly in very vivid descriptive prose. About the only thing that relieves this postcolonial tract (I use the term loosely; the novel is too well written to be classified as propaganda) is an affair Salim has with a married European, which ends abruptly and obliquely after a bout of inexplicable sadomasochism that apparently mirrors Naipaul's own sexual life. I don;t know why it was even necessary to spend that much time on this side story unless Naipaul couldn't help himself because of his own predilections.(I read a Time magazine review some years back of the authorized biography of Naipaul where it states that that his writing of women here changed as the novel was written after he'd taken up with a mistress and apparently beat her up a lot in the bedroom). The sexual affair and the number of pages it occupied jarred, somehow. It was like an inserted chapter. He should have shortened it or made it a more major part of the story, then its appearance would have made more sense. Doubtless it's well-written, but I didn't like it so much, hence my rating. I actually enjoyed the simpler Things Fall Apart of Chinua Achebe more.

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