By Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
In a story that strikes with dreamlike swiftness from India to England to Africa, Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul has produced his best novel up to now, a bleakly resonant examine of the fraudulent offers that make up an identity.The son of a Brahmin ascetic and his lower-caste spouse, Willie Chandran grows up sensing the hollowness on the center of his father's self-denial and vowing to stay extra authentically. That seek takes him to the immigrant and literary bohemias of Nineteen Fifties London, to a facile and unsatisfying occupation as a author, and eventually to a decaying Portugese colony in East Africa, the place he reveals a happiness he'll then be forced to betray. Brilliantly orchestrated, right away elegiac and devastating in its photographs of colonial grandeur and pretension, part a existence represents the top of Naipaul's occupation.
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Many of the craftsmen lived in the master's compound with their families. The master was working on a complicated drawing of a temple pillar. He was pleased as always to see me. I looked at his drawing, and he showed me others, and I worked the subject round to the girl, a “backward” who had been expelled and threatened by her family and was now in need of shelter. I decided not to speak shyly, but with authority. The master knew of my ancestry. He would never have associated me with such a woman, and I suggested that I was acting on behalf of someone very high indeed.
There were very many of those. They wore an impressive livery, and in the town they were treated like little gods. I believe my father wished me to continue in that way, to continue the climb he had begun. For my father it was as though he had rediscovered something of the security of the temple community from which my grandfather had had to flee. But there was some little imp of rebellion in me. Perhaps I had heard my grandfather tell too often of his flight and his fear of the unknown, only looking inward during those terrible days and not able to see what was around him.
It suited my temperament, and it also seemed the least complicated way out. The news of this vow of silence spread. Simple people who had come from afar to pay their respects to the temple deity would now also stop off to pay their respects to me. I became at once a holy man and, because of the firebrand and his niece outside, a political cause. My case became almost as well known as that of a scoundrelly lawyer in another state, a jumped-up backward called Madhavan. That insolent fellow—going against all custom and decency—had insisted on walking past a temple while the priests were doing a long and taxing set of religious ceremonies.