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An Area of Darkness

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,388 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
A classic of modern travel writing, An Area of Darkness is Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul’s profound reckoning with his ancestral homeland and an extraordinarily perceptive chronicle of his first encounter with India.
Traveling from the bureaucratic morass of Bombay to the ethereal beauty of Kashmir, from a sacred ice cave in the Himalayas to an abandoned temple near Madras,
ebook, 304 pages
Published October 20th 2010 by Vintage (first published 1964)
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Paul Bryant
O my God, did V S Naipaul get out of bed the wrong side every single day of his life? His Mr Grumpy routine gets so tiring you wish you could visit a poor woodworker in Delhi with him just so you could grab him and force his head into a vice and leave him there. ("Not letting you out till you cheer up old boy!"). The next time VS Naipaul rings me up and suggests a swift half of Tetley's at The Gladstone I'm going to tell him to call round at my house first. Then when he turns up I'm going to chl ...more
Bishan Samaddar
If you are an Indian, this book is one of the most difficult things you can read. The difficulty arises from the undeniable truth in what Mr Naipaul writes. You resist that truth but are forced to acknowledge it as well. It is uncomfortable: that someone (an outsider?) can see that overwhelming reality of circadian Indian existence—and what lies beneath it—and articulate it so well is not easy to accept perhaps. But one is moved to accept it. Widely criticized for its negativity, this book actua ...more
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
V. S Naipaul has always been a controversial figure. Whether it is for his rude behaviour towards fellow writers at conferences or his show of support for India's Hindutva ring, Bharatiya Janata Party or his admission in his autobiography that his callousness killed his wife, this Trinidadian author has always been some sort of an enfant terrible of English literature. For all his genius, he also remains a vilified figure in India and not without reason. The Area of Darkness, when it was publish ...more
Nov 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There was a time when I loathed Naipaul, wondering how someone never born and brought up in India can pass such judgements on her so unabatedly, but of course I was naive.
Am older and less of a spring-chicken now in such matters.Now, If there is someone whose judgement on India I give a true fuck about these days it has to be his ( Well, may be along with Upamanyu Chatterjees). The rest are mediocre scum floating in their vast post-modern mediocrity. As Vidia himself put-India does revel in its
If one can imagine the difficulties Naipaul suffers now in a period in which the principle of 'free speech' is being eroded by nice white people to 'you can say what you like as long as we agree with it', it speaks buckets for this book that he experienced the 'censorship of the offended' the very moment it appeared. Banned in India and still banned over fifty years later.

This sits badly with me, not only because of the issue of free speech, but also because he didn't look at all at the side of
Antonio Nunez
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In his native Trinidad Naipaul had always somehow been of India without being Indian. After 12 years in London, and possibly in an attempt to regain some sense of his own roots, he decided to take a sabbatical year in India in 1962. This book is the fruit of that year.
It begins inauspiciously enough with some amusing but not too jarring description of the endless troubles involved in bringing a bottle of liquor into India. We've all heard of India's elephantine bureaucracy, and Naipaul confirms
Jigar Brahmbhatt
Observation was a key to Naipaul's oeuvre. To venture among a people, to talk to them, to find out everyday drama, to unearth "suppressed histories" (a term used by the Nobel committee), and to ultimately look... from a certain vantage point that kept changing over the years. In the recent Dhaka lit fest, he mentioned that the three books on India are not a journey into the development of a nation but into the development of a writer. He was being metaphorical. It is ultimately a way of looking. ...more
Mar 08, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, travel
This is a book that heartily annoyed me as I read it, but the last 60 pages changed my tune. I would never want to read this book again, nor would I recommend it to others unless they knew what they were getting into--but the endless historical essays on caste and English colonialization did eventually end, and did lead into a really interesting place for Naipaul. One of my chief complaints with the book as I read was that Naipaul kept himself aloof, that so much of the book was abstract histori ...more
Dec 22, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
it takes a special genius to damn a country for it's climate ALSO. and the world never tires of telling what a special genius naipaul is. this turn of phrase here. that most appropriate word there. lots of perfectly formed sentences in between.all of which are on display in this book that to me seems to be more about naipaul than about india.
with great subtlety he says that there is no subtlety to be found here. someone with a salary of 600 rupees is a "600 rupees a month man." another is a "1
Alejandro Teruel
V.S. Naipaul caustically spins out, at arms distance, in silky, spidery prose, his accumulated frustrations, bitterness and resentments. Born in Trinidad, the grandson of a brahmin immigrant, he exemplifies the constant, dull, poignant unease of flimsy, shallow postcolonial roots triply severed from a childhood in Trinidad, a garbled, crumbling heritage from India foisted on a child that knew no better and a half-hearted yearning for an England that never was:
To me as a child the India that had
This book (first published in 1964) has become somewhat notorious for its narrator’s rather negative attitude towards the country he is writing about. In the preface to the edition I read (from 2010) he lets his readers know that his bad mood during at least the first part of the book was due to a creative crisis he was going through at the time – this might be true, or it might be not; but in any case, it reminds us that, even though An Area of Darkness is a book of non-fiction, its narrator mi ...more
Arjun Ravichandran
This is an utterly devastating and honest look at India, and the Indian psyche/Weltanschauung, told through the narrative device of the writer, a Trinidad-Indian, returning to the country of his forefathers. What follows is a relentless sojourn of rapid disillusionment and bucketloads of bitterness-soaked critique.

This was my first introduction to Naipaul, and what an introduction it was. There are no holds barred right from the get-go ("Indians defecate everywhere"). There are plenty of astute
russell barnes
May 01, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Paul
Shelves: india, biog
Second time round, and good 10 years after I first read it An Area of Darkness surprised me more than I expected. Okay, so Naipaul is at best an arch miserablist, but I had forgotten just how negative and mean he is about Indians and the whole Indian experience.

However the middle section dealing with his time in Kashmir is wonderfully arch, with the previously-forgotten Aziz an amazingly Falstaffian character, simultaneously protecting the tourists, whilst fleecing them at every opportunity.

Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this while I visited India, and read about the Bhagirath only a few days after experiencing it in Delhi. The book is realistic but sympathetic. Naipaul sought to explore his roots, and warns anyone undertaking such a venture that roots, by their nature, grow in a particular environment. What is holy at the centre (bathing in the Ganges, rotted fish in Norway or Vegemite in Australia) may be disgusting to the naïve objectivity of the outsider.
Aug 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
a brutal criticism of India. probably very true too at the same time... the first time i've been exposed to Naipaul's opinions and i'm not sure i liked it all. in the end when he visits his grandfather's village, Naipaul sounds very like the Indian he has been loathing throughout the book. he has been very honest to say the least

May 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i felt like I was trully travelling in india in the early 1970s...some of Naipauls encounters draw similarities with mine! he explains the modern Indian psyche very well!
Sep 18, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nobel-prize
Naipaul's arrogance drove me crazy. I was hoping for a portrait of India, instead I got a portrait of an arrogant, racist, insufferable man.
Cindy Rinaman
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-star-reviews
Naipaul offers a unique perspective of worlds beyond worlds. As an Indian raised in Trinidad and educated in the UK, he planned a tour of his "homeland" that gives us the impressions of an outsider often invisible as an outsider to the people among whom he moves. Of course the India of over a half century ago is different from today's, but in these pages we learn a lot about what it means to be human and about what we take for granted as "human" that is more cultural. The episode at the end, whe ...more
Pooja Wanpal
This book reeks of disillusion, but perhaps that is what sets it apart. It is not uncommon to find books overflowing with effusive praise about India. But being an India, a patriotic one at that, I do know sometimes the praise is hollow. India is a land of contrasts and complexities that one book cannot adequately describe. It will be like holding a drop of water and calling it the Ganges.

This book is representative, sure, but it fails to encompass the whole nature of India. There is a distinct
Jeanne Thornton
This book is beautiful but also makes me really personally sad for VS Naipaul? His scatological horror conception of India, though it's pretty arresting and incisive re: postcolonial trauma and personal self-loathing and horror, also made this a difficult book to get through, though I think worth it in the end. I kept wanting to get outside of VSN's head, to have some kind of relief, objectivity, that was never really forthcoming, that maybe by the nature of a book like this can't be forthcoming ...more
Fred R
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading so much of his later stuff, it's a relief to turn to his earlier work, when he was funnier, more enthusiastic and more expansive. The writing and the thinking aren't as tightly controlled, which risks melodrama. I was surprised when Naipaul visited his ancestral village and found out they were indeed Brahmin, as I had been sure that his grandparents had switched caste somewhere on their way to Trinidad.

There's a hysteria at the edges of this book, a barely-contained shock at the sq
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the writer's in depth experiential record which defies categorisation. In particular his descriptions of the people he comes across are a delight. Verging on caricature, they do not quite tip over - there is usually some genuine warmth in Naipaul's response, even if it is frustration.

While he is often aghast at the India (1963/4) Naipaul encounters which is so unlike the Indian experience of his homeland, Trinidad, by the end of the account he has achieved an equilibrium.

For this reade
Amar Pai
Sep 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
V.S. Naipaul's first trip to India -- he's appalled by the filth, poverty, etc. etc. -- quite funny in parts, like when he's trying not to overpay Kashmiri tour guides. In the years since he mellowed out, and also India's socio-economic situation changed considerably. But it's entertaining to catch him here in his younger days. He's self-aware enough to find the humor in his constant disgust/snobbery/irritation, and he's good at choosing just the right details to convey the sense of a place. You ...more
A year spent in India in the early 60's, by Naipaul - born in Trinidad to parents of Indian heritage - his grandfather emigrated to Trinidad.
It is quite true Naipaul is incredibly negative, pessimistic and critical of India. It is difficult to expose anything he says as false however. Although negative, he has a wonderful writing style, and tells a good story, although some of his transitions leave me a bit bewildered, and there is a section of ranting I didn't grasp the point of in the middle t
Nov 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book a long time ago, so it's hard to remember a lot of the details, but I remember being wowed by Naipaul's vivid descriptions of many areas of India. In this travel memoir, he journeys to his homeland for the first time (he's Indian but grew up in the West Indies). The book explores his conflicting feelings about his identity (belonging but not belonging at the same time). It's one of my favorite of Naipaul's books.
Feb 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great travelogue of a powerful and insightful writer returning to the country of his heritage. I find the Naipaul's greatest contribution to the world has been his travel books. His sharp observations and ability quickly place his surroundings within history, politics and culture cuts through a dozen visits I could make to the same location to get the same learning.
A travelogue that displays some handsomely written passages that shows the author's self-assuredness in his craft, but is ultimately let down by long stretches of the author's muddled thoughts about India and his connection with the place.
Sorin Hadârcă
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, travel, asia, naipaul
V.S. Naipaul alternatives essay writing and autobiography in a narrative which is to become the most intimate, critical and funny account of his journey to India. Beats Kerouac at his own game: on the road novel.
Kelsey Coolidge
Memoir of one of my favorite authors, a little dry at some points but a fantastic mix between a travel guide and personal memoir.
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
I do not recall how I came to own An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul. It's not a genre I normally read, but I did own it, and having it I decided to give it a try. It was worth it.

At first I was put off by the lack of emotion in the narrator's voice. He spoke of his family, his upbringing on the island of Trinidad, his family's Indian heritage, all as though he were an alien who was making observations and taking notes to report back to his home planet ("species seem to believe in many gods....
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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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“Out of its squalor and human decay, its eruptions of butchery, India produced so many people of grace and beauty, ruled by elaborate courtesy. Producing too much life, it denied the value of life; yet it permitted a unique human development to so many. Nowhere were people so heightened, rounded and individualistic; nowhere did they offer themselves so fully and with such assurance. To know Indians was to take a delight in people as people; every encounter was an adventure. I did not want India to sink [out of my memory]; the mere thought was painful.” 10 likes
“Out of all its squalor and human decay, its eruptions of butchery, India produced so many people of grace and beauty, ruled by elaborate courtesy. Producing too much life, it denied the value of life; yet it permitted a unique human development to so many. Nowhere were people so heightened, rounded and individualistic; nowhere did they offer themselves so fully and with such assurance. To know Indians was to take a delight in people as people; every encounter was an adventure. I did not want India to sink; the mere thought was painful.” 2 likes
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