Friday, October 1, 2010

The harsh eyes of an ageing giant

Powerful in parts, Naipaul’s account of his travels in Africa reiterates his old, negative ideas about the continent

The Masque of Africa
Picador; Rs. 595; Pp 324 
Africa has no future.” That is how V.S. Naipaul ended a 1979 interview with Elizabeth Hardwick in The New York Times Book Review. This was just after the appearance of A Bend in the River, his novel set in Africa—a continent to which he wasn’t a stranger, having lived in Uganda as writer-in-residence at Makerere University in 1966. Then again, he visited the Ivory Coast in the early 1980s, the fruit of which was the non-fiction account, The Crocodiles of Yamoussoukro. It’s here that one finds the first glimmer of the theme that runs through his new work, The Masque of Africa. Despite his bleak pronouncements on the continent, Naipaul clearly feels impelled to return every so often; this journey may well be his last.

He revisits Uganda and the Ivory Coast, and travels to Ghana, Nigeria, Gabon and South Africa, seeking what remains of primordial African belief: “the older world of magic”, and how it has changed, or not, with the advent of Christianity, Islam and the “modern” way of doing things. He seeks out the grass-thatched palaces of Africa’s original rulers, visits shrines and other reliquaries, meets soothsayers, shamans and witch doctors, and speaks to those whose lives have been altered by initiation rites. He finds common themes: “Doubles, astral journeys, the fragility and yet the enduringness of ritual, the idea of energy, the wonder of the forest.”

Full review here Mint

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