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In a Free State

3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  2,595 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
No writer has rendered our boundariless, post-colonial world more acutely or prophetically than V. S. Naipaul, or given its upheavals such a hauntingly human face. A perfect case in point is this riveting novel, a masterful and stylishly rendered narrative of emigration, dislocation, and dread, accompanied by four supporting narratives.
In the beginning it is just a car tr
Paperback, 247 pages
Published February 12th 2002 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1971)
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Dec 30, 2016 Praveen rated it liked it
Bobby Said, “I never learned to drive until I came out here. But during my illness I always consoled myself with the fantasy of driving through a cold and rainy night, driving endless miles, until I came to a cottage and right at the top of a hill. There would be a fire there and it would be warm and I would be perfectly safe.”

Rain outside and fire inside that is always romantic !

In this book, story gears ahead with the revving of engine when a burst of blue smoke and squeal of tyres are heard
Alejandro Teruel
I must confess that I do not not enjoy reading V.S. Naipaul. I find his fiction overly pessimistic and bitter, his characters unappealing, passive victims whose lives seem exercises in futility. In a sense, like Joseph Conrad, he explores the backwaters of colonialism (or post-colonialism in Naipuals case), but whereas most of Conrads main characters have a spark of courage, or decency or some positive human value, Naipauls alienated and displaced characters find it difficult to even sustain pet ...more
Apr 28, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are three novellas with a very short piece at the beginning and end. The focus is on being in a foreign/strange land. The longest novella deals with Africa at the end of empire; two white colonials travelling across an African state (possibly Uganda) at a time of change. It highlights their fears, prejudices and feelings about the future. There is a strong sense of threat (real or imagined; you decide) as they travel and a sense of something ending. The story about an Indian in Wshington D ...more
I probably ought to re-read this as I don't think I had enough knowledge to understand it at the time I first read. I only remember the first story, One Out of Many which has made an indelible impression on me. Naipaul is masterful in telling the incisive tale of servitude transported, giving each character due measure of inherent decency, self-interest and flawed humanity. The uncomfortable meeting of worlds is all the more resonant because stories from the point of view of servants are so unus ...more
May 31, 2012 Jamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I think this is one that will stay with me for a long time.
I tried to write an actual review, but I'm struggling to put how I feel afterwards into words.
I would, however, recommend this to absolutely anybody. There is wisdom and compassion and rage and a sense of lucid detachment that make the book very difficult reading, but make you think very deeply and clearly.
I think great literature should transport you to a time and place and you should come away having lived an experience, and in this y
Lady Jane
Jan 05, 2012 Lady Jane rated it did not like it
This is one of Naipaul’s most successful works. It is an eclectic compilation of narratives written in the minimalist style that is characteristic of Anglophone literature. The minimalism of its style, however, does not make it any less deep. The tales in this book are based on the lives of characters who are somehow pitifully depicted as slaves to their socioeconomic conditions, which is a sad and common reality to the human experience, and now it can be related to the many people who are alleg ...more
Jan 21, 2012 randy rated it it was amazing
Facts are facts: Naipaul's prose is extraordinarily exquisite. I caught myself thinking a few times while reading this that reading this is better than being high.

That is some amazing power of prose right there.

Before I picked this up (on the merit of it being a big influence on Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss) I knew next to nothing about Naipaul aside that he was considered a great writer. Now, he is on my must read list & went out and got my second book from him today.

But this novel is
فهد الفهد
في بلاد حرة

المرة الأولى التي اقرأ فيها لنايبول الحاصل على نوبل الآداب سنة 2001 م، ورغم أن كتابه هذا حصل على البوكر سنة 1971 م، إلا أنه لم يستهوني كثيراً، والكتاب ليس رواية، بقدر ما هو قصة طويلة وأربع قصص قصيرة، تنتظمها كلها مجموعة من الموضوعات، تتراوح ما بين الغربة والهوية والعنف.

ففي إحدى القصص نتابع حياة مستخدم هندي، يذهب مع سيده إلى أمريكا، حيث نرصد تعامله مع الحياة هناك، وهروبه للعمل في مطعم، وفي أخرى قصة أخ هندي وكفاحه لتعليم أخيه الأصغر، وفي ثالثة نتابع رحلة يقوم به رجل وامرأة بريطانيان ف
Pedro Cabiya
Jun 03, 2016 Pedro Cabiya rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel, colonial
Naipul has such an eye for vivisecting the colonial condition. In this novel he applies it ruthlessly to both native subaltern and dominant colonial presence. The last narrative proper, "In A Free State", is a character study of the highest caliber. Next up, A House for Mr Biswas.
Feb 15, 2009 Amy rated it it was ok
I just didn't get this book. I liked the first story but the second story I just didn't get. And, I haven't finished the last story though I keep trying.
Courtney H.
Dec 06, 2013 Courtney H. rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookers
In A Free State is a collection of two short stories and a novella, with two even shorter stories bookending them. Though each story takes place on a different continent (North America, Europe, and Africa) and have vastly different facts, they are tied together by themes of displacement and dependency; each tells the stories of the relationships that are formed and which sustain and ruin the characters in their immigrated-to homes, during eras that were as filled with upheavals as were the indiv ...more
Apr 23, 2011 Avital rated it liked it
Somewhat numbing. I liked two stories, one about an Indian servant who leaves India with his employer. The other about an Indian who wants to give his brother better opportunities, and leaves India after him. Everybody fails miserably or feels he does.
I wished both stories went on-I could read a whole novel about each. They are about foreignness, loneliness, prejudice, as are the other two lesser stories (well, more of testimonies of brutality) and as is the novella.

The novella is disturbing in
Ben Batchelder
Apr 14, 2013 Ben Batchelder rated it liked it
This is a bleak book from a very good author. I first started reading Naipaul while hitching around the world in the 1980's, especially when in the Middle East and India. “In a Free State” covers slightly less exotic territory. A low-caste Indian skips his mat-in-the-closet existence with his master in a DC apartment, gets a cooking job, marries for a green card, and finds little contentment. A West Indian brother falls into criminal insanity in plush England. An English odd-couple on a long dri ...more
S Moss
Sep 06, 2016 S Moss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Varieties of Cultural Freedom

All the narratives in this collection focus on individuals who have left their native countries and are experiencing the shock and disorientation that an immigrant undergoes. While the visitor has the ability to leave when the experience becomes uncomfortable or dissatisfying, the immigrant’s decision is driven by factors that cannot be easily dismissed. Naipaul creates five scenes that explore aspects of this quandary, three from the immigrants’ perspectives and two
Dec 03, 2011 Geraldine rated it did not like it
The first 2 stories were quite readable, but the third one entitled "In a Free State" was a real chore to read. The 2 characters Bobby and Linda were obscure, unlikeable and boring. It all seemed very disjointed. Maybe a metaphor for the country and the nature of being in a" free state " of mind and body,when ruled by colonialists, but it did not work for me.
Preferred " Troubles" as a book about a colonial power. Both Booker prize winners, in 1970 and 1971, so colonialism must have been importa
I don't know whether the sections that were excised from this new version would have helped or changed my opinion, but I found this difficult book to warm to, and it didn't leave me wanting to read more. What remains is a road story of a mismatched and not very likeable pair of English people travelling through an anonymised East African country at a time of civil strife in the post-colonial era, a very bleak read.
Feb 12, 2016 Kenneth rated it liked it
I applaud Naipaul's ever-present theme of post colonialism, and his focus on the denizens of the developing world. I agree with the Nobel Committee's statement that he is "the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense."

However, I feel his writing style itself is too sparse, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks. For readers such as myself, that is not an experience we appreciate. In short, I neither recommend nor denigrate this book.
Aug 12, 2010 Ahmar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ahmar by: Adrienne
Not as good as A Bend in the River, but a great short read. Enjoyed the colonial caricatures. The stereotypes, the contradictions, the finding-oneself-in-a-foreign-land. Good stuff.
Hannes Spitz
Jul 15, 2015 Hannes Spitz rated it really liked it
Die Geschichte über den indischen Dienstboten, der in Washington strandet und ein neues Leben antritt, ist herzzerreißend schön...
Jul 12, 2010 Erin rated it it was ok
Oh, how I miss Tolstoy - and I never did like Conrad.
Sep 14, 2010 Hayley rated it really liked it
Good read. Naipaul is kind of a an annoying person though.
Andrey Davydov
Jun 09, 2016 Andrey Davydov rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The book deals with people who are suddenly detached from their environment, and are left to figure things out on their own, floating in a free state. Naipaul stresses the sickening uncertainty of this condition, which is only exacerbated by familiar things that acquire a new meaning. Santosh, a former slave from rural India who follows his master to the US, gets ill on the plane when he is made to swallow the betel juice that previously brought him comfort. What was good and wholesome now means ...more
In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul

Another version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:


There are three accounts within this Man Booker Prize Winner.
Alas, I only liked the first.

The second was not up my alley and so I never reached the third and last of them.
Perhaps one day.

Otherwise, I loved:

- A Bend in the River and A House for Mr. Biswas

Which may explain this failure, at least in part.
Coming with high expectations is often bound to di
Recommended by my mom who thought it was great. The 3 stars is really provisional here. I feel I need to think about the stories more. I started reading the book a second time right after finishing it so I could maybe get a better grasp. I also read the reviews here and some other places on the web.

The prologue: I really liked this part. I felt Naipaul did a great job giving the feel of the place and the dynamics among the people. I felt I could relate to the tramp, as well as to the viewpoint o
Jim Leckband
Oct 24, 2016 Jim Leckband rated it really liked it
It had been a very long time since I read A Bend in the River and in that time I had read several articles about how messed up Naipaul was as a person. Since I had essentially forgotten the previous book, I was halfway expecting a misanthropic asshole expounding on how everybody, colonizer or colonized, gets what they deserved.

That isn't what I got when I read the book. Some of that might be in these fictions, but there is also a lot of empathy and thought. Maybe that is one reason he got the bi
Barbara Greene
Dec 17, 2016 Barbara Greene rated it really liked it
I know that people compare this book to Conrad, but these are Naipaul stories. No one else could write these stories. He is the master of capturing the uncomfortable feelings of being among the colonialists but still knowing you are an outsider among them as well. His stories and novels make me feel the awkwardness of the Other looking in and describing what he sees.
Alex Rendall
Apr 03, 2013 Alex Rendall rated it it was ok
Shelves: booker-prize
V.S. Naipaul has a reputation for courting controversy. Born in Trinidad in 1932, he is the first of the authors on this list who is still living; he has been involved in bitter disputes with authorial rivals and has attracted criticism for his recent comments regarding female writers. He has been described as being the “greatest living writer of English prose”, yet it is difficult to grasp an understanding of the authorial motivations that lie beneath the regular critical swipes against members ...more
Sep 17, 2016 Iain rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
For a novel from a Nobel laureate that won the Booker Prize, In a Free State is an entirely underwhelming mess that tries to disguise it's four separate, disconnected stories as some great observation on immigration in a post-colonial world. And it doesn't work.

To start with, the novel is comprised of essentially one novella, two short stories, and new selections from a travel dialogue. While all of these selections have their own individual merits and strengths, they really don't belong togethe
Feb 14, 2008 James rated it it was amazing
The central novella, reads as a Cold War Heart of Darkness. It's the sexiest book I've ever read. The "free state" itself is a fictional artifact, but is clearly inspired by Idi Amin's Uganda. The protagonist is a mentally unstable, homosexual foreign-services worker who has to drive from the capital to the center of the country where he and an ambassador's wife will be able to find shelter on the grounds of the British embassy.
Naipaul presents central Africa as an unfathomable conflation of p
Jan 15, 2009 James rated it really liked it
Nominally a novel, but actually more like a collection of short stories, In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul is in this way different than other works of Naipaul that I have read. But in other ways it is similar and as a result it is as good as the others I have read. This is because all the five stories are linked thematically and they share Naipaul's beautiful prose style.
In a Free State includes stories that are all about people who find themselves in places where they feel, or are made to feel,
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Naipaul was born and raised in Trinidad, to which his grandfathers had emigrated from India as indentured servants. He is known for the wistfully comic early novels of Trinidad, the bleaker novels of a wider world remade by the passage of peoples, and the vigilant chronicles of his life and travels, all written in characteristic, widely admired, prose.

At 17, he won a Trinidad Government scholarshi
More about V.S. Naipaul...

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