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A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

A Bend in the River (original 1979; edition 2002)

by V.S. Naipaul

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Title:A Bend in the River
Authors:V.S. Naipaul
Info:Picador (2002), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:Fiction, 1001

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A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979)



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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Character development is Naipaul's thing and the main character in this story is well developed. The story essentially follows the standard existential dilemma of what a person's purpose in life is, and how family and community intersect with that purpose. The tension between family acceptance and alienation is one of the dominant themes, as the main character, Simon, has rebelled from his family and set off on his own. Several other characters in the story have similar experiences. The larger theme is about purpose in life and how one defines that. Simon, and some of the other characters, seem adrift against the chaotic backdrop of African third world life and politics. Even those characters with clearly defined goals seem to be thwarted by the chaos around them. In the end Simon is more driven by circumstance than purpose as he escapes the crumbling town he has called home. ( )
  bness2 | May 23, 2017 |
This story of an Indian man born and raised in Africa post-WW2 varied from insightful to tragic to boring. Salim moves from his family home on the east coast to an unidentified city in central Africa which had been a Belgian colony (I suspect it is Kisangani, Zaire now DR Congo). There are distinct echos of Conrad's Heart of Darkness particularly in the first section.

I find the setting fascinating but the story is told in what I am beginning to think of as the "Booker Prize" style -- lots of description of Salim's thoughts and opinions and the action felt as if it was occurring at a distance even when it is happening to Salim himself. ( )
  leslie.98 | May 3, 2016 |
Good writing but a dull story. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Naipaul writes so well that the depressing becomes uplifting. This tale set at the bend of a river in Africa is superbly told. The only thing I can think to compare it to is listening to Joni Mitchell's _Blue_ when one is depressed. Should also be filed with the other books that deal with a "brutal reality." The characters' struggles to escape abject poverty put them up there with Sisyphus and their perserverance makes them truly heroic. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Salim, the Indian narrator, is looking for his place in the world and observing other men, who he presumes are doing the same, in part, because his place is relative to them. Is he more or less powerful? Richer or poorer? Better or worse?

I say "men" because women's place, to him, depend on men. Whether this reflects the time of the novel, the point of view of the narrator, or the sexism of the author isn't clear. I'd like to rule out the last choice (other reviewers did not) because anyone who writes so well deserves the benefit of the doubt. Part of writing well is that your unreliable narrator shouldn't be so obviously . . . well, unreliable, and Salim is not a caricature. As an Indian who grew up outside of India, primarily on the coast of Africa, that he should be in doubt about his place in the world makes sense.

Is the title a metaphor for something? Is the river the flow of time? The bend, some kind of kink in the flow? Or is it the literal location of much of the story? Does Africa symbolize a part of the world looking for its place? That both Salim and the unnamed African country are seeking stability, so in step with each other, the former trying to go with the flow of the latter until it becomes impossible, tempts us to read it as symbolism to please our English teachers and to justify the author's Nobel prize. I prefer to read it as realism. Salim may be required to make sense of his world but I am under no such obligation.

Salim contemptuously observes the fake Orientalism of British decor intending to suggest India and mentions Indians rejecting Nehru and Gandhi as their "great men." Similarly, he observes the fake "domain" meant to convey the modernization of Africa, the fake museum of African art of Father Huismans, the fake European-style trappings of civilization which is just a framework for corruption. But his life is also fake. His affair with Yvette is an attempt to puff himself up and when the puffery ceases to be convincing to him, he turns on her. He sees Yvette as a social climber who made a wrong decision (choosing the doomed Raymond) but the reader (at least THIS one) sees her as genuinely caring for him and for Raymond as well.

Is Salim's view of Africa and Africans racist? How about Naipaul's? Does he reject Indian stereotypes but buy African ones? On the one hand, Salim stereotypes everyone, because he's trying to figure out the world and where he belongs in it. On the other hand, he cares about others. He tries to help Ferdinand, even while observing his identity crises. He even tries to help Metty, his "slave" which turns out to mean his obligation more than his servant. This even after Metty betrays him.

In the interstices of the story itself, Salim has this epiphany which he returns to on occasion: "Men lived to acquire experience; the quality of the experience was immaterial; pleasure and pain--and above all, pain--had no meaning; to possess pain was as meaningless as to chase pleasure." It's almost Hindu in nature, his true Indian self peeking through while he tries on other roles. ( )
  Gimley_Farb | Jul 6, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
V. S. Naipaulprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hardwick, ElizabethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679722025, Paperback)

In the "brilliant novel" (The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man—an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isolated town at the bend of a great river in a newly independent African nation. Naipaul gives us the most convincing and disturbing vision yet of what happens in a place caught between the dangerously alluring modern world and its own tenacious past and traditions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:45 -0400)

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Set in the Congo and expressing a rage at the inability of the third world to survive post colonialisation.

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