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The Mimic Men by V. S. Naipaul

The Mimic Men

by V. S. Naipaul

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On the surface this is the memoir of a disgraced former colonial minister, Ralph Singh, exiled from the island country he briefly ruled and now living in a run-down hotel in London. But perhaps it’s more accurate to think of this as the trellis upon which Naipaul has woven a much deeper, much more complex examination of colonialism, politics, race, society, culture, and human psychology.

I’m struggling to figure out how to characterize a story in which much happens internally while very little actually occurs externally. One insight that occurs early is that Naipaul has chosen his narrator well. Singh’s life story provides opportunities to explore so many complex issues – from his childhood spent navigating a chaos of adolescent, intellectual, religious, racial and class issues, to his brief career as a radical politician in which he explores the complex realities of colonialism and the emptiness and futility of revolutions that arise from anger and despair, to his “retirement” in exile, which provides the opportunity for exhaustive self-examination about identity. Throughout the narrative, however, weaves at least one common theme: the extent to which a life spent mimicking the values & ambitions of others – other people, other cultures, other classes, other religions, other economies, other political systems – can ever be “true” or fulfilling. Can identity ever be wholly organic, or do we inevitably define ourselves through the perceptions and expectations of race/class/society/gender we are born into?

In 250 short pages Naipaul packs an almost indescribable amount of observation and reflection, couched in language that borders on lyrical at times. Seriously, I was underlining passages almost every paragraph – beautifully turned phrases, dazzling flashes of insight, deftly observed universal truths. Which makes for an intense intellectual experience, but possibly not riveting reading if your aim is entertainment or distraction. So consider yourself warned: while this definitely isn’t something you’d want to take with you to the beach, it will amply reward readers who are willing to devote to it the time and reflection it deserves. ( )
  Dorritt | Jan 7, 2017 |
This was a somewhat slower read than some of Naipaul's other works, in my opinion, but I think there's more subtlety here the more I look at it---the difficulty in seeing it is that a lot of the work comes together in the end, moreso than in other books, so that this is one of those books that might require two reads to get a real feel for. The characters and plot, though, are humorously built, and fun to explore. As a result, it's worth reading, and great entertainment with a complex structure that still comes across as being both necessary and thoughtful. For readers who want to see the subtlety of Naipaul's beautiful language and and twists, a second read might be in order as well. Naipaul, though, as usual for me, constructs the most beautiful prose, and those sentences that make you stop at a moment's notice to reread.

So, not my favorite Naipaul, but certainly worth reading and recommending. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Feb 13, 2011 |
One day i will finish reading this book as well ( )
  zasmine | Jul 11, 2009 |
A story and character that stays with you. An excellent discussion on how corruption starts and stays. Good to be read with "The Inbetween world of Vikram?". ( )
  piefuchs | Nov 22, 2006 |
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When I first came to London, shortly after the end of the war, I found myself after a few days in a boarding-house, called a private hotel, in the Kensington High Street area.
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Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the tensions of living in many worlds at the same time.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375707174, Paperback)

A profound novel of cultural displacement, The Mimic Men masterfully evokes a colonial man’s experience in a postcolonial world.

Born of Indian heritage and raised on a British-dependent Caribbean island, Ralph Singh has retired to suburban London, writing his memoirs as a means to impose order on a chaotic existence. His memories lead him to recognize the paradox of his childhood during which he secretly fantasized about a heroic India, yet changed his name from Ranjit Kripalsingh. As he assesses his short-lived marriage to an ostentatious white woman, Singh realizes what has kept him from becoming a proper Englishman. But it is the return home and his subsequent immersion in the roiling political atmosphere of a newly self-governed nation that ultimately provide Singh with the necessary insight to discover the crux of his disillusionment.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:13 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Born of Indian heritage, raised in the British-dependent Caribbean island of Isabella, and educated in England, forty-year-old Ralph Singh has spent a lifetime struggling against the torment of cultural displacement. Now in exile from his native country, he has taken up residence at a quaint hotel in a London suburb, where he is writing his memoirs in an attempt to impose order on a chaotic existence. His memories lead him to recognize the cultural paradoxes of his childhood and later life: his attempts to fit in at school, his short-lived marriage to an ostentatious white woman. But it is the return to Isabella and his subsequent immersion in the roiling political atmosphere of a newly self-governing nation that ultimately provide Singh with the necessary insight to discover the crux of his disillusionment.… (more)

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