Thursday, April 01, 2010

What connects Conrad to Naipaul ?

A dedicated reader cannot get any better prize when his own discoveries are confirmed by giants of literatures.

From the beginning on my reading of "A Bend of the River" I was sure there must be a connection between Joseph Conrad and VS Naipaul. In fact, after reading "Heart of Darkness" I switched to "A Bend ..." which was long on my "next reading" list.

These two books are linked on many levels. Both play their action on or close to Kongo river, yet both don't name it. Both don't name the country identity nor its figures. Both deal with human nature more then with anything else....

So, imagine my joy when I read the following words from Nobel prize committee, when, in 2001, VS Naipaul was selected to win:

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.

"A Bend in the river" is the story of Salim, a Muslim of Indian origin, who lived in unnamed city on Africa East. At some moment in time he bought a store in the midland of the continent on "a bend in the river". His story is from now on related to the political turmoil of the country (possibly Congo) caused by its dictator - the Big Man - most likely Mobutu Sésé Seko. What is the most important in the book, is the impact the dictatorship had on the people - how it changed their minds. How it attracted people, and how it betrayed the in the end.

The book shows, how troubled Africa is. How difficult it is for Africa to emerge the democracy, to disavow violence and corruption - how deep these problems are - and how they cast shadow on human souls.

The book has also a beautiful love story plot....

VS Naipaul forms a conclusion and writes his conclusion ... at the very beginning of the book:

"The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it."

I was first shocked by the sentence, and by some interpretation of the book - as totally pessimistic. It seemed to me that there was a lot of hope in the book.

I thought like this, until I read about "Second Kongo War" ... it claimed almost 6 million victims...

What is Africa today? Can you tell me ?


  1. RE: "The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it."

    Hmmm. The world is indeed what it is. And it is full of men who are nothing, and become nothing, because that is what the world is. It is what we see before us. Life is suffering.

    We cannot turn it into the kingdom of heaven by murdering people we have self righteously designated as "nothings".

    This is the kind of dehumanizing thinking from which atrocities spring.

    I subscribe to the belief that all men have equal value simply because they exist, and all men are due equal respect and care.

    I can't wait to read the book, though.

  2. Tonjia, thanks for the post - in many ways - I also do not share the view expressed by the sentence that starts the book.

    But it is so deeply true - and that makes me sad. But on the other hand - when you face the truth in such book - you have more courage to be against ...