V.S. Naipaul’s vast corpus has been characterised by several distinctive features: the luminosity of his prose; the ability to go beyond the surface currents of history and capture something far more important but elusive; the underlying mood of cultures in crisis; the artfully presented (some might say constructed) interviews that often poignantly reveal psychological burdens and complexities of history more than historical tomes do.
In many ways, Naipaul’s latest book, The Masque of Africa, is his weakest and thinnest. It is ostensibly an exploration of Africa’s original religions, their rites and practices, long subjugated by two different forces. On the one hand, there is modernity, with its masks of rationalism and enlightenment, that delegitimises the enchanted world of rites and spirits, totems and sacrifices. On the other hand, there is the pressure of the great world religions, Islam and Christianity, that also bring, as Max Weber had described, their own forms of rationalisation and disenchantment, by sidelining a chaotic world of traditional religion through systematic theology. The book is, at one level, about this process in Africa — its deep fragility and inability to entirely colonise the “original” religion.
Full review here Indian Express