'The World is what it Is' are the words with which Naipaul begins his brilliant novel A bend in the River – his commentary on Africa. In his character...more'The World is what it Is' are the words with which Naipaul begins his brilliant novel A bend in the River – his commentary on Africa. In his characteristic disdain for third world countries, Naipaul has reflected a plain, bleak and unhopeful reality, entertaining no optimism for post-colonial Africa. Unfortunately this dismissal is not born out of snobbery or an affected worldview, but is a reflection through an acute, intellectual but a very practical mind.
The protagonist, Salim, is an Indian whose family has lived in Africa for many generations. In a hope to create an individual identity and to escape from Nationalistic euphoria that has threatened his family business, he moves to the interior of Africa where he sets up a shop. In this interior town, which is referred as the town at the bend in the river, Salim experiences the confusion of post-colonial Africa. He meets young men full of pride marching off to fancy schools; he sees the ubiquitous portrait of the dictator, the Big Man, which keeps growing in size; he sees the rise of fancy buildings and listens to jingoistic, fashioned speeches. As a thoughtful outsider who is still not completely detached, Salim is an ideal narrator of the state with his slightly amused and slightly anxious annotations. He has little sympathy for the natives, who are believed by the outsiders to be malin, of evil disposition. Through a young man who has been put in his charge, he sees the ridiculousness of modern African who frequently changes attitudes and mannerism, trying to find his own identity but managing only to imitate others. This man also swings widely from the African of the bush to the modern man of wealth, finding discontent on each side.
But it is not only the darkness of Africa or third world countries that are at the center of this novel. It is also a story of alienation and self-imposed exile, and a quest for home, which Naipaul indicates to be futile. In the form of Indar, Salim's childhood friend, it seems to me that Naipaul presents a sort of an alter-ego – an intellectual who abandons his home and is grossly disappointed when confronted with the mediocrity of India which is his native land. In a rebellious streak to seek a separate identity, he criticizes others who accept this 'given' life:
And that is where I suppose life ends for most people, who stiffen in the attitudes they adopt to make themselves suitable for the jobs and lives that other people have laid out for them.
Indar, like Naipaul, also advises (Salim) to 'trample on the past', to let go of the romantic images of childhood and homeland, because that image exists only in the mind and not in reality. It cannot serve anyone to dwell in those images.
It is one of the most remarkable novels that I have read – at once superior and harsh. Its reality is disheartening to read, especially as part of a country which is grappling with a similar truth despite all protests. (less)
I did not know anything about the history of the Balkans before reading Andric's book. After reading it, it seems that I could not have found a better...moreI did not know anything about the history of the Balkans before reading Andric's book. After reading it, it seems that I could not have found a better way to get a vivid description of this region's story. Andric gives us snippets from life in a Balkan village across a span of 400 years, all woven together with the central theme of a bridge which stands during this period. It is a sensitive tale, which describes the tenuous but amicable relations between Muslims and Christians of the region, and mingling of even more cultures with the coming of the Jews. Through the four chronicled centuries, though empires change and so do fortunes, life around the bridge undergoes little change. The cruelty that marks the construction of the bridge, continues in different forms across centuries and different heads are beheaded by different empires on different pretexts. By condensing 400 years in a few individual stories, Andric has not only been able to make a coherent whole, but also beautifully shown the repeatability and steadiness in time.(less)
It is understandable why this book was such a hit so many years ago. But today, I think it has come dated. After observing closely some variants of hi...moreIt is understandable why this book was such a hit so many years ago. But today, I think it has come dated. After observing closely some variants of his "beat generation", I find that this book holds nothing new to charm me. It is highly self-absorbed, tells the same sequence of events over and over again. If it had stopped a hundred pages short, it may have had some merit of describing the generation and its disorientation. Now it is the story of one man doing the same things repeatedly and gaining neither fun nor perspective in exchange.(less)