For most of A Bend in the River, I was able to put aside my personal feelings about Mr. Naipaul, but it didn’t carry me all the way through (see more at the end). Still, it was an entertaining tale of a young man without a country in jeopardy of blending too far into his new environment as a shopkeeper relocated to a fictional post-colonial African town.
Salim is the young Indian from a coastal African country who has willingly moved to a small town near the bend in the river to take ownership of a small store from an acquaintance whose daughter he has promised to marry. While change is whirling around him, Salim seems unable to truly see what is happening and chooses to allow events to take him where they may, including a sexy young Brazilian seductress. His apathy nearly takes his life and he must finally make decisions.
A customer from the bush, Zabeth, is said to be a magician. She is also known for her offensive body odors, reportedly to repel unwanted male attention. It is therefore comical that she asks Salim to watch over her sulky son who she sends to a nearby school. Her wish for her son’s future drives her to travel frequently to and from the bush to sell her purchases. There seems to be more to this woman than was delivered and I feel cheated at that.
Yvette, the alluring young Brazilian lives with her older professor husband, purportedly assisting the country’s leader. She is quite fond of expensive clothes and confesses to marrying for the potentialities. Her sexual appetite seems insatiable and at times, brutal. There was not much substance to this woman and if there were, it was absent in this writing.
Thus far there are only two living authors from the Modern Library list and Naipaul is one of them (Philip Roth, the other). While I acknowledge Naipaul’s writing abilities, I fear a label of misogynist applies. Perhaps I could disguise myself as a man and sit with Sir Naipaul and do my best to glean some of his literary talent while we enjoyed some Joan Baez.
Okay, so what disturbed me was his unapologetic, almost nostalgic description of an abusive sexual relationship. Add to that the visits to prostitutes…hey, wait a minute this all sounds so familiar. Perhaps it is that Naipaul is reported to have had abusive relationships and was known for frequenting brothels. Art imitating life? “It isn’t that there’s no right and wrong here. There’s no right.”
My rating for A Bend in the River is an 8 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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