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In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul
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In a Free State (1971)

by V. S. Naipaul

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
In the first story, "One out of many", a young man a cook who stays in Bombay is happy. When his employer gets transferred to Washington, he has a choice to follow him or go his own way. He chooses to follow his employer and finds himself in an alien environment. He makes a series of wrong decisions which he regrets when he gets a grip on things, some life decisions which he will regret forever.

In the second story,"Tell me who to kill", a black man who comes to England to take care of his brother looses his own self.

"In a free state" is a story set in an African country in the southern part of Africa. There is a power struggle between the president of the the country and the king. We are in the final stages of this struggle and the winner is the president who is moving in for the kill. In the midst of this struggle, a gay English man who works for the country's government is driving across the country along with the wife of a collegue to their compound in the king's territory.

The narrative reveals the foreigners' ignorance, fear and complete lack of understanding of the natives. Naipaul has described this in stages. We are spectators in this road trip and are left to interprete the events our own way. There is no internal dialogue and no insight into the characters' minds.

Al the stories deal with the immigrants in a foreign land trying to come to terms with it and failing. Naipaul has a detached and impersonal style like a person describing himself after stepping out of his body. There is a strong depressing feel to these stories. ( )
1 vote mausergem | Apr 3, 2013 |
Nominally a novel, but actually more like a collection of short stories, In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul is in this way different than other works of Naipaul that I have read. But in other ways it is similar and as a result it is as good as the others I have read. This is because all the five stories are linked thematically and they share Naipaul's beautiful prose style.
In a Free State includes stories that are all about people who find themselves in places where they feel, or are made to feel, that they don’t belong; the stories are about boundaries, purity, pollution, incommensurability and just plain strangeness. In the opening prologue, the presence of an English tramp on a Greek ferry causes uproar. The second story, my favorite, tells of an Indian servant who tries to adjust to a new life in Washington D.C. Next, in a story that demonstrated a striking voice with a melancholy that I found disturbing, a South Asian West Indian immigrant in London reflects on the ruins of his life. His relationship with boy he is helping deteriorates as he slowly realizes the failure of the boy to live up to his naive ideal.
The titular novella narrates the experience of two white Britons in Uganda drive from the capital to their compound in the south as post-independence upheaval around them throws their presence in the country into relief. In the epilogue an Asian businessman travelling through Milan and Cairo reflects on cruelty and empire.
While I found interesting aspects to all the shorter stories, the main story, In a Free State, clearly stands out among the lot. While neither of the two main characters are appealing, the contrast between the self-deluding Bobby, who claims to have some sort of authentic connection with “Africa,” and the cynical, weary Linda is very effective. They wear their prejudices on their sleeves, so to speak, and only differ in tone and personality. More effective for me was the setting and the use of description to maintain a tension that suggested (not unlike a Hitchcock thriller) the presence of horror just around the bend. Whether you agree with the view represented in these stories about the difficulty of adjusting your being to a new place and a different culture you can, through the graceful prose style of V. S. Naipaul, enjoy the book. ( )
  jwhenderson | Apr 15, 2012 |
Like a watercolor left in the rain. I guess I should throw in the "spoiler alert", except that knowing the basic plot in advance would have helped me through this mess quite a bit. These stories hint at something great, but the writing style leaves them all muddles. The first tale, of a servant taken from India to Washington, is comprehensible, and seemed a promising start to the book. Another review of the second tale states that the narrator ends up in jail. Well, perhaps, but, after reading the review, I went back and read the tale again, and I still can't find anything that makes that clear, or even particularly more likely than other versions, which is too bad, because the story described in the review sounds much better than Naipaul's version. The characters in the main tale, Bobby and Linda, alternate between hating each other and developing a begrudging fondness for each other in a way that completely lacks plausibility. Again, there are hints of two or three different, good stories buried in the main tale, but Naipaul doesn't seemed to have figured out which one he wanted to tell, so he tossed them all in. By time I reached the end of the tale, I hoped that Bobby and Linda would come to some horrible fate, just because I'd become so annoyed with them and with Naipaul's narrative style. ( )
1 vote rkstafford | Mar 27, 2012 |
I don’t think I’ve ever read any Naipaul before. Can’t think why. This was an excellent series of short stories wandering through themes of empire, colonialism and identity and is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, if not more so.

The book has four narratives:

The opening and closing are from the point of view of a traveller embarking on a ship to Egypt and then being a tourist in Egypt.
There is a narrative about a guy who is a cook for an Indian diplomat who takes him to the US where he ends up being an illegal immigrant.
The most opaque story involves the bitter thoughts of a man whose brother had made a success of emigration while he still struggles due to some bad choices.
The longest story involves a car journey that two ex-pats take through an East African country which is fictional but which has recently gained independence with all the consequent instability that brings.

All the stories have are deeply psychological with Naipaul using tension throughout to convey the impression of dislocation and crisis for almost all the characters. Much of what the characters struggle with is very moving. The Indian narrative in particular brought to mind the struggles of the characters in Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Naipaul must surely have influenced many Indian writers.

If you’re like me and you’ve spent your life wandering the earth and have given up all hope of finding a place where you feel settled, then a lot of what these characters go through will resonate with you. Through some prophetic serendipity, this was also the Booker Prize winner from the year of my birth.

This is not an uplifting read, but it is a very powerful book that deals with the realities of the colonial legacy. With the rise of globalism in the decades following its publication, it has only become more relevant to our times. It quite rightly brought Naipaul the accolades and recognition he would come to deserve in his lifetime. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Jan 22, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
V. S. Naipaulprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dorsman-Vos, W.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Golüke, GuidoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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De oversteek van Piraeus naar Alexandrië duurde slechts twee dagen, maar zodra ik de groezelige kleine Griekse schuit zag, kreeg ik het gevoel dat ik anders had moeten reizen.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330487051, Paperback)

"In a Free State" deals in displacement. It tells first of an Indian servant in Washington, then of an Asian West Indian in London who is in jail for murder. Then the story moves to Africa, to a fictional country something like Uganda or Rwanda. The two main characters are English. They once found Africa liberating, but now it has gone sour on them. At a time of tribal conflict they have to make the long drive to the safety of their compound. In the background, the threat of violence looms. The voices in this novel are breathtakingly vivid, while the characters are portrayed with an intelligence and sensitivity that is rarely seen in contemporary writing. Dennis Potter described the book as one 'of such lucid complexity and such genuine insight, so deft and deep, that it somehow manages to agitate, charm, amuse and excuse the reader all at the same pitch of experience'. This is one of V.S. Naipaul's greatest novels, hard but full of pity.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:40 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Set in an imaginary African state against a backdrop of civil conflict, the theme of this novel is displacement and the heartache of living in someone else's land.

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