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The Chip-Chip Gatherers (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) (original 1973; edition 1997)

by Shiva Naipaul

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672178,380 (4)41
Member:mausergem
Title:The Chip-Chip Gatherers (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)
Authors:Shiva Naipaul
Info:Penguin Classics (1997), Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Trinidad

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The Chip-Chip Gatherers by Shiva Naipaul (1973)

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"It was at this time, when the tide was out, that the beds of chip-chip were exposed and squadrons of women and children from the village would come down to the beach armed with buckets and basins to gather the harvest of shells. The women wore petticoats but the smaller children would be naked. Separate working parties fanned out along the beach. Squatting on their haunches, they labored long and assiduously, shoveling and raking over the wet sand with their hands; filling the buckets and basins with their pink and yellow shells which were the size and shape of a long fingernail. Inside each was the sought-after prize: a miniscule kernel of insipid flesh. A full bucket of shells would provide them with a mouthful. But they were not deterred by the disproportion between their labours and their gains. Rather, the very meagreness of their reward seemed to spur them on. Quarrels were frequent, their chief cause being the intrusion of an alien group into the staked-out territory of another. Some of these border conflicts could flare into violence. Tempers sparked easily in the scorching sun."

The chip-chip, formally known as Donax variabilis, is a tiny edible mollusk which populates the Eastern United States and the Caribbean. The meat from these sea creatures is considered to be a delicacy in Trinidad, the country in which Shiva Naipaul’s second novel is set. The chip-chip serves as excellent metaphor for the poor inhabitants of the island: their lives are “nasty, brutish and short”, as they struggle against both the recurrent waves that wash them from their sea bed communities, and the birds and humans that thoughtlessly consume them en masse.

The Chip-Chip Gatherers, the winner of the 1973 Whitbread Prize, is set in the Settlement, a community of poor Indians that is so insignificant that it doesn’t appear on any maps of Trinidad. The dominant character is Ashok (Egbert) Ramsaran, a ruthless and eccentric tyrant whose successful trucking company and extortionary money lending business has made him the most powerful man in the community. Egbert is a self made man who turned his back on his aimless parents and wayward brothers, and he refuses to lift a finger to help them or anyone else. He has one son, Wilbert, who he grooms to take over the business after his death. Despite his wealth, Egbert adamantly refuses to provide his son with a formal education, as he views doctors and lawyers as lying cheaters, and he regularly belittles and harangues Wilbert into submission.

His estranged best friend from childhood, Vishnu Bholai, works as the community’s local grocer, after failing in his dream to become a lawyer. Vishnu’s strikingly handsome and rather vain son Julian is a promising student who plans to gain a scholarship to England to pursue a career in medicine. Vishnu seeks reconciliation with Egbert, and fervently desires for Wilbert and Julian to become close friends, but the boys, like their fathers, have little in common.

Egbert’s long suffering and nearly invisible wife Rani dies of a heart attack, which initially provides her husband with relief and freedom. However, he soon finds himself lonely, as he has no friends and has lost his only companion. Rani’s mother Basdai, realizing that her financial link to Ramsaran has been severed upon her daughter’s death, cleverly creates a plan to keep her monetary pipeline intact. She cajoles her wayward niece Sushila, who is strikingly attractive and single, to offer her services as a housemaid to Egbert, and lure him into taking her on as his mistress. Sushila has a daughter out of wedlock named Sita, a moody, bookish and determined girl who also strives to escape the influence of Basdai, her daughters and daughters-in-law, and her mother, who left her in the care of Basdai to seek favors in the larger cities of San Fernando and Port of Spain. Basdai’s plan is successful at first, but ultimately she derives no benefit from it, and later the relationship between Egbert and Sushila takes a tragic turn that has wide ramifications on the others.

The main characters are linked by their ruthless desire to escape from the others in the community in order to achieve success, like a crab that seeks to crawl out of a barrel while the others pull him back in. Love and happiness are viewed as foolish pursuits that only lead to failure. They are desperate and fatalistic, and their extreme individualism blinds them toward any thoughts of working with each other to achieve common goals.

The Chip-Chip Gatherers is a deceptively simple novel, filled with humor and pathos, compelling characters, and evocative descriptions of the Settlement and its inhabitants. Shiva Naipaul mines the same fertile soil as his far more successful older brother Vidya (V.S.) did in his novels A House for Mr. Biswas and The Mystic Masseur, but this novel stands on its own and is a unique and captivating view of a postcolonial culture that is nearly the equal of Vidya’s early novels. Sadly, Shiva died of a heart attack in 1985 at the age of 40 and did not achieve much recognition or success during his lifetime, but hopefully the recent reissuing of The Chip-Chip Gatherers by Penguin Classics (UK), along with his 1970 debut novel Fireflies, will permit a new generation of readers to experience and enjoy the work of this talented and largely forgotten writer. ( )
9 vote kidzdoc | Jan 7, 2013 |
This book won the Whitbread Award and is set in Trinadad.

It follows the lives of few Indian origin descendants of sugar cane plantation workers in a village called Victoria. We follow their everyday ordinary lives.

The chip chip gatherers are a clan of villagers who roam territories of beaches to collect the small nail like shells for the merge fleshy part inside them. A full day's collection would yield about a cupful not enough to feed or satiate the hunger of a small child. Still these people collect their chip chips with lots of enthusiasm and protect their territories from others.

Our charecters in this novel also lead a similar life living for merge things but still protecting it with a vigor.

The author has made this seemingly dull set of charecters and a dull story line an unforgivable one for some time to come. A must must read. ( )
2 vote mausergem | Nov 29, 2012 |
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Classics. Shiva Naipaul was the brother of V. S. Naipaul and author of "Fireflies" and "The Chip-Chip Gatherers". "The Chip-Chip Gatherers", his second novel, was winner of the Whitbread Literary Award in 1973 and is set in Naipaul's native Trinidad. It includes a new foreword by Amit Chaudhuri. The crowded, ramshackle community of the Settlement in Trinidad is at the mercy of a tyrant. Egbert Ramsaran, the proud owner of the Ramsaran Transport Company, who has become the richest man in town through sheer strength of will, is a capricious, eccentric despot who loves nobody and whom nobody can afford to ignore. There is his son Wilbert, bullied into passivity and failure; Vishnu the downtrodden grocer without grace or hope; the beautiful, unpredictable Sushila, who tries to wield her seductive powers over Ramsaran; and her daughter, Sita, intelligent enough to know that escape is possible. Their intricately woven lives are perfectly captured in all their pathos, comedy and humanity.… (more)

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