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The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief

3.17 of 5 stars 3.17  ·  rating details  ·  264 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Like all of V. S. Naipaul’s “travel” books, The Masque of Africa encompasses a much larger narrative and purpose: to judge the effects of belief (in indigenous animisms, the foreign religions of Christianity and Islam, the cults of leaders and mythical history) upon the progress of civilization.

From V. S. Naipaul: “For my travel books I travel on a theme. And the theme of
Hardcover, First Edition, 256 pages
Published October 19th 2010 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

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The slide continues. Naipaul's latest sees the grizzled Nobel Laureate on a jaunt through several sub-Saharan African countries to have a look at (or get "glimpses" into, as he more accurately puts it) traditional African spiritual beliefs, and how these have fared in the aftermath of colonialism and the coming of Christianity and Islam. A wonderfully Naipaulian theme; but he seems alarmingly lacking in the passion to truly explore it. He appears more concerned than ever for his personal well-be ...more
I refuse to put this on my religion/philosophy shelf. This book, which is supposed to be about "African belief" is about an author who is less interested in exploring Africa than he is in his own comfort. He travels in class, sometimes with high-powered friends and even bodyguards at times, arranging to meet chiefs, who don't really tell him anything. He often goes to meetings and leaves before anything really important is discussed. He mentions over and over that you need to grease palms in Afr ...more
in the few years i worked at an outdoor magazine stand i was frequently struck by the seeming arbitrariness of british celebrities and socialites who'd grace the covers of UK tabloids -- they just didn't look or feel anything at all like 'real' movie stars. of course, for some poor sap in botswana, bahrain or burundi, i'd imagine toby maguire, steve carrel, jenna fischer, or sandra bullock don't seem possessed of tremendous amounts of star quality. similarly, naipaul's book of belief in 6 differ ...more
This book is short, but dense and challenges readers from at least three backgrounds, including:

1. The Generic 'Religion as Binding Ritual' type

I always want to tear my hair out (but can't because I have none) when I hear people talk about traditional tribal religion as giving shape to communities, providing a pattern of life, and so on, and so lament its passing. Yes, it does do these things - but that is hardly what tribal religion (or any religion) is about. Make no mistake, many Africans rea
Justin Evans
This book, and its reviews on goodreads, taught me a couple of things. Most importantly, I realized how important a book's title can be. I picked this up at the Museum of African Art in D.C., where it was on super-sale. There were a number of fetish objects in the museum, which were much more powerful than most of the modern art around them. The curator's notes suggested that much of this was a response to the slave-trade (especially from Benin), which would have been so catastrophic for the peo ...more
Fred R
This is likely to be Naipaul's last original publication, and he is indeed a little slow, a little tired, and more than ever obsessed with his comfort and his finances. The book is also poorly edited. His perspective and style, however, remain, and I find them as attractive and original as ever.

Naipaul has always had a distaste for borrowed, imported, or imposed beliefs (Islam in India, Black Power in the British Empire, Christianity in Africa), so it's understandable that he would have some in
The Masque of Africa by V. S. Naipaul is a travel book focused on a contemplation of African religions and beliefs. It begins in Uganda and continues on through Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Gabon, and South Africa.

As with all Naipaul’s books, this one achieves its authority with an understated but stately consistency and knack for the telling detail. He is a master stylist in that he maintains the same tone and pace regardless of what he’s writing about, and he is uncompromising in his reporting
Orlando Tosetto
As crenças que interessam a Naipaul são as da África negra (islamismo ele conhece bem). O pouco que ele aprende e fala delas, porém, lhe serve para perceber que não há solução ou esperança à vista para um continente dominado pelo caos, pela rapina, pela violência e pela superpopulação. Dá tristeza de ler, mas é muito bom.
Ruqaiya Said
I had to re-read certain parts in this book to come to a complete understanding of what was being discussed. Despite being an avid reader , I generally do not read works of non-fiction. This book came as a recommendation from a colleague who swore (literally!) that it was an absolute page-turner. At first I was taken aback by the very theme this book revolves around, one that I usually refrain from discussing with people. To me, religious and or cultural beliefs are too personal of a matter to a ...more
This book attracted a fair bit of negative press upon publication for its prejudiced views of Africans - Robert Harris called it "toxic" for example. There IS some old-fashioned prejudice here - the critics weren't hallucinating - as for example when Naipaul speculates that a Ghanian he interviews might have acquired his analytical bent of mind from a Danish ancestor. It's an odd passage (the more so since just prior to this demeaning assessment the analytical man has been recounting a pretty cr ...more
Rick Skwiot
I was a sympathetic reader going in. I have read and admired V.S. Naipaul’s fiction and nonfiction for decades. I anticipated his newest tome, The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, enough to pre-order it. But I came away disappointed not only in the book but in the Nobel Prize-winning author as well.

It was bad enough that Naipaul skims the surface here in his investigation of traditional African religion. He seemingly conducted no scholarly research (there is none cited or footnoted)
A great series of travel essays. Naipaul visits Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and South Africa, trying to understand the practical implications of African belief, focusing primarily on traditional beliefs. While he adheres to his stated objective of avoiding political topics (except in the case of South Africa, which he acknowledges), he captures the human root sand consequences of beliefs and rituals. He does this not as an anthropologist, but most often as the acquaintance of a f ...more
It's a conversational work of nonfiction, and it's interesting to learn that Naipaul is, after all, a good guy. His novels are so unsparing, patiicularly Magic Seeds, which I vow to read all the way through one day, that I had no idea he was so kind, patient, and interested. He writes about the religious practices, the ruin, and the glory of Africa as he found it in early this century, in a chatty way that took me right along with him. Its a casual book on his part, which means its still legions ...more
Jay Dee
The subject matter of this book is immensely interesting. It's about the varying beliefs, cultures & traditions of African communities, and also the effects of modernization in these secluded areas. I loved all the bits and pieces presented to us throughout the book.

The only problem I found with it was V.S. Naipaul.

NOTE TO THE AUTHOR: Yes Mr. Naipaul, I heard you the first time when you fretted about your budget... can you please shut up about your funds, Mr. Naipaul... why are you blaming
John Crane
I have rarely read a book about Africa that was as "detached" as this one. Having spent quite a bit of time in Africa, sometimes I wondered where Naipaul actually was. The book seemed to be too much about him and not about the people that he claims to be writing about. Perhaps the Masque was being worn by Naipaul - and not by Africa....
Disappointing. Naipaul travels as a high-end and well-connected tourist, several times complaining about the quality of his lodging, while failing to delve beyond the surface into any of his stories. He in fact comes off as disinterested and fails to deliver any true insights into this potentially rich subject.
Ranjeev Dubey
Sir Vidya indifferent is more insightful than most people at their best. The plot plodded but soon came back, more than once. The end was worth the intermittant plodding. One of those things you have to do anyway. But certainly not his best.
Craig Werner
Simply awful. Naipaul often waxes curmedgeonly, but this doesn't even pretend to try to see the material through his prejudices. Inconsistent in his standards, criteria....A great writer at his best; no idea he could sink this low.
Kobe Bryant
very beautiful book about Naipaul talking to a bunch of African people about their faith and beliefs. I don't believe in anything because I'm an atheist
Greg Brozeit
As I read the various negative reviews this books has received, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that most of these readers/writers had a specific agenda or penchant to criticize and vilify Naipaul—indeed, I question, by some of the comments, if they had read this book in its entirety at all. The subtitle, Glimpses of Belief, refer less specifically on religion than on cultural beliefs which often have their roots in religious history and practice.

It is important to distinguish what this bo
Steven Borowiec
There probably isn’t a more polarizing living writer than V.S. Naipaul. He’s gushed over by many in the literary establishment, while being scorned by others who find him to be cruel and cranky.

He’s the descendant of mostly-Brahmin Trinidadians. He left his country of birth (he wouldn’t call it ‘home’) on a scholarship to Oxford determined to beat the English in their own language. He never wanted to be anything but a writer and a writer he became.

While acclaimed as a novelist, much of Naipaul
Right from the get go, I had no idea what was going on in V.S. Naupaul's Masque of Africa. The narration skips around so much that in the beginning I was not sure that it was only one person speaking. People's names are mentioned out of the blue and not explained, leaving readers to wonder who people are and what their importance is.

Bits and pieces were interesting, but I continually felt, while reading it, that things were being repeated. So much so that a few times I went back through to be s
Sonia Almeida
Interesting, but I have mixed feelings about it. It was meant to be a small portrait of the african beliefs, and how they coexist. The "new" religions, brought by the europeans and muslim traders vs the old engrained beliefs of each country/race/tribe. However, it was very difficult for the author to be impartial, and to actually make an objective evaluation. It was always as if he was contrasting the backward ways of the underdeloped with the promise of what they could be.
Africa is in no way p
Naipauls "In der Biegung der großen Flusses" war ein Meilenstein für mich, da er die kolonialen und postkolonialen Konflikte schonungslos aufzeigte. Ein großartiges Werk!
Daher hoffte ich dass auch "Afrikanisches Maskenspiel" ähnlich aufschlussreich sein würde. Leider weit gefehlt. Angepriesen als großartig und aufrüttelnd, war das Buch schon nach den ersten hundert Seiten etwas, das ich nur aus Pflichtgefühl zu Ende las. Naipaul beschreibt auf sehr kurze aber plakative Art seine Reise durch mehr
John Daly
I came away from the book with the feeling that Naipaul chose to study a class of beliefs in Africa that would tend to be deprecated by his readers in the global book-buying public. I have not read his other books, and it may be that his books on Christianity and Islam similarly trigger his skepticism. It may be however, that this book is an allegory for our beliefs, and that he is indirectly deprecating of the beliefs of Americans and Europeans. Indeed, that might be the point he is trying to b ...more
Grady McCallie
I quite liked this book, a collection of six linked essays set in sub-Saharan Africa (Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and South Africa). The book offers a nuanced portrait of what a sociologist might call the 'performativity' of identity in several African societies in transition. Naipaul, who won the 2001 Nobel prize in literature, is too good a writer to use such an infelicitous term. Instead, he just recounts the performances, bringing the reader along to experience them as direct ...more
really a remarkable book. the opening chapter on uganda made me miss kampala terribly, and it was the most beautiful rendering of ugandan history that i've ever read. it seems like a difficult task to write a travel book, to write about conversations you have with interesting people you've met in a passing way, or to summarize impressions of a new place, but naipaul does it with a lot of dignity and self-awareness and appreciation. when people he talks to seem obsessed with making money off of h ...more
Pretty average book. I was left frustrated by Naipaul after various encounters where his physical or mental weakness or straight up cheapness prevent him (and in turn, us as well) from discovering many things that he had the opportunity to discover. I give it 3 stars instead of two because it was enjoyable, I'm am hopelessly over-interested in the topic, and Naipaul still writes eloquently.
I'm never totally sure what to make of Naipaul's travel books because he can't keep himself out of them, and he's not really a nice person - too full of himself and his prejudices are too often in view. And then I wasn't sure if this was meant as a travel book or as a study of how well the syncretism of traditional African belief systems with the mainstream Islamic and Christian religions is working or, perhaps, not working. However, I found the discussion of the still existing African tradition ...more
Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul paints a grim portrait of modern Africa as essentially a continent of failed nation-states that have little to show for 50 years of independence. Whie the focus is on "African belief," a broadly defined concept that appears to embrace a variety of spiritual beliefs, the book works best as a travelogue of sorts -- reminiscent of John Gunther, in fact -- shedding light on six African nations Naipaul visited in 2008-09. One of the most vivid vignettes comes at the conclu ...more
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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
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