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A Bend in the River- Sir V.S. Naipaul

 
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Posted August 30, 2016 by

A Bend in the River – Sir V.S. Naipaul – 1979

a-bend-in-the-river-sir-v-s-naipaul

Reviewed by: Chris Green        Date: 30 October 2001

BendintheriverNaipaul’s ‘A Bend in the River’ is the story of a shopkeeper from the Eastern African coast who moves into the interior to a once-flourishing trading community in hopes of building a new life. His impetus for leaving his home is the destruction of traditional ways of life by the influences of colonialism and modernism; but he is not fleeing those forces from fear or anger, but rather because he realizes that those coastal communities have drifted past their eras as important places, and thus sees no reason to stay.

He finds the town at the ‘Bend’ in shambles, a shadow of the former splendor and wealth of its colonial past. What he encounters in this newly independent country is a people, or peoples, struggling to figure out who they are and who they are going to be.

As with many Naipaul novels, this one explores the themes of displacement, of colonial abandonment, of the sudden rise to power and subsequent corruption of formerly downtrodden peoples, and the endless supply of hope inherent in even the most hopeless of post-colonial societies. One of the most striking features of this novel is the portrayal of the ‘Big Man’ – the dictator of the unnamed African nation – who is counted on to solve all the country’s ills, only to disillusion his people through ineptitude and greed.

Stylistically Naipaul is unremarkable. His prose is fluid and economical, is effectively descriptive, and thoroughly readable. Yet the foundation of enjoying any Naipaul work stems from his insight into the thoughts and hopes of the people he writes about; he is able to relate their fears and hopes to Western audiences despite the fact that the characters are wholly unlike us.


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