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A Hot Country (Abacus Books) [Paperback]

Shiva Naipaul
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

20 Sep 1984 Abacus Books
This is the author's shortest novel, set in the independent South American country of Cuyama where an election is about to be held, to the despair of everyone.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere Books Ltd; New e. edition (20 Sep 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349124922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349124926
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,663,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Dislocation, in time and space, times three... 9 April 2011
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is Shiva Naipaul's last novel before his untimely death at the age of 40, in 1985. He is the younger brother of VS Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature; I've always considered that Shiva was the better and more insightful writer. This novel is set in Charlestown, in the South American country of Cuyama; which is a very thinly disguised version of Georgetown, in former British Guyana. In the United States, the country is most famous for the mass suicide / murder at "Jonestown," led by the "Reverend" Jim Jones in 1978. Shiva Naipaul also wrote a book on that event, Journey to Nowhere: A New World Tragedy. This book has nothing to do with that event, but was obviously a derivative on his time in country researching the other event. The book also draws on Naipaul's on upbringing in Trinidad.

Guyana / Cuyama is a country of under a million people, living in a hot, muggy climate. Almost all, save for the American Indians, cling to the coast, with the "impenetrable jungle" behind them, containing some American Indians and the descendants of runaway slaves. As a legacy of the British Empire, the largest ethnic group is Indians from the subcontinent, followed closely by descendants of slaves, and there are a few scattered whites, who are descendants of those who brought the two larger groups together in this unlikely place, all in an effort to grow sugar cane, to sweeten the proverbial cups of tea in London.

Aubrey St. Pierre is the principal character. He is the descendant of slave owners who fled the rebellion in Haiti, and rebuilt their fortunes, with palatial house, in Charlestown / Georgetown.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fictional Story of Colonialism 26 Jan 2000
By Linda Linguvic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
There is no such country as Cuyama. It exists only in the author, Shiva Naipaul's, imagination, placed somewhere on the coast of South America. It seems real though, with a history that is the story of colonialism itself.
Written in 1983, shortly before the author's untimely death two years later at the age of 40, it is a small gem of a book, somber in mood, that makes the reader aware of this small, forgotten, part of the world.
Aubrey St. Pierre, plagued with guilt over his slave-owning ancestors, sits in his musty bookshop and writes protest letters to the Times in London and New York. His wife, Dina, the daughter of a converted Hindustani and a Portuguese woman never quite fits in. She has an English last name and a university education but feels alienated and aloof.
The climate is always hot, fires burn, vegetation rots, and buildings are crumbling. The government is corrupt, there is unrest, poverty and disillusionment.
The author was born in Trinidad and educated in England and the writing is that of an educated Englishman. The book is short and he uses his words with economy and precision.
The country seethes with malaise. The story reflects this well. The characters are complex and deep. And their world is joyless. The tone never varies and the reader is gripped with the feeling of hopelessness and sadness.
I was completely drawn into the book though, reading it slowly, one paragraph at a time in the subway,on a bus, before I fell asleep at night. It haunted me, touched me. Any violence in the book is referred to obliquely in the past. There is instead, a feeling of hopelessness.
It is a worthwhile read, although not for everyone. I do recommend it however.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dislocation, in time and space, times three... 29 Sep 2010
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is Shiva Naipaul's last novel before his untimely death at the age of 40, in 1985. He is the younger brother of VS Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature; I've always considered that Shiva was the better and more insightful writer. This novel is set in Charlestown, in the South American country of Cuyama; which is a very thinly disguised version of Georgetown, in former British Guyana. In the United States, the country is most famous for the mass suicide / murder at "Jonestown," led by the "Reverend" Jim Jones in 1978. Shiva Naipaul also wrote a book on that event, Journey to Nowhere: A New World Tragedy. This book has nothing to do with that event, but was obviously a derivative on his time in country researching the other event. The book also draws on Naipaul's on upbringing in Trinidad.

Guyana / Cuyama is a country of under a million people, living in a hot, muggy climate. Almost all, save for the American Indians, cling to the coast, with the "impenetrable jungle" behind them, containing some American Indians and the descendants of runaway slaves. As a legacy of the British Empire, the largest ethnic group is Indians from the subcontinent, followed closely by descendants of slaves, and there are a few scattered whites, who are descendants of those who brought the two larger groups together in this unlikely place, all in an effort to grow sugar cane, to sweeten the proverbial cups of tea in London.

Aubrey St. Pierre is the principal character. He is the descendant of slave owners who fled the rebellion in Haiti, and rebuilt their fortunes, with palatial house, in Charlestown / Georgetown. It is a decade or so after independence was declared in the `60's, and Aubrey is a liberal burden with the legacy of his ancestors slave owning past; is determined not to "cut and run," and runs a bookstore to elevate the intellectual level of the "natives." The bookstore, as well as everything else Aubrey touches, quickly becomes lost causes. Aubrey hires, and eventually marries Dina Mallingham, who Naipaul powerfully portrays in the first chapter, in a vignette that will ultimately provide so much understanding into her character. Both Aubrey and Dina are lost souls, though Dina seems to have a more realistic assessment as to why. Naipaul has some strong passages describing Dina's life as a series of events that just seem to happen to her; both her marriage and the birth of their only child are "out-of this-world" experiences. They happen to her, but without any desire or feeling on her part. If the reader hasn't guessed it earlier, about half way in the book Naipaul confirms that Dina is a descendant of those from the subcontinent. Naipaul has a knack for catching the details that best depict the anomie in the lives of both of them. There is also some excellent portrayals of "minor characters" such as Dina's father, Aubrey's mother, and a visit from Aubrey's former college roommate, now a journalist living in England. They are playing out their lives against a backdrop of increasing unrest among the lower classes, and overall decay of both society, and the physical infrastructure.

Shiva's brother, VS, made his mark by similar portrayals of decay and decline in post-colonial societies, which seem to find a niche market for those who were nostalgic for the days of Empire. For me, the difference in the two brothers is that Shiva writes with empathy for the characters that are caught up in the tragic turn of events, like survivors of a hurricane; VS lacked that empathy.

Concerning their marriage, consider one of Naipaul's assessments: "Had she been ground to dust by the tyranny of his uncomprehending affection? Did she too occasionally yearn to run away from him?" Or of their overall fate in this post-colonial society: "They had been fooled and cheated. But fooled and cheated out of what? Out of the knowledge of their condition. That, in the end, was the true oppression. They had been duped."

As you might suspect, there are not many novels about life in Guyana. This has to be the best: incisive, authentic; unlikely to be promoted by their Tourist Board, which is all the more reason to read it, even, before you go. A solid 5-stars.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very 'post-colonial'. 29 Nov 2001
By darragh o'donoghue - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
'A Hot Country' almost reads like a parody of a 'post-colonial' novel, just waiting to be snapped up by earnest lecturers and set on English Literature classes. Set in the fictional South American country of Cuyama, a former slave colony recently granted independence, it focuses on three characters: Dina Massingham, the book's main centre of consciousness, daughter of an Anglicised Hindustani family, and gutted of soul, spirit and hope, by a combination of personal experience, character and historical circumstances; her unlovable husband, Aubrey St. Pierre, scion of the country's pre-eminent slave-owners, now living in genteel decline, full of egotistical humanitarian desire to atone for his family's past, and given to pedantic and pompous speeches full of noble Enlightenment values that seem preposterous and ineffectual in this context; and Aubrey's former college room-mate Alex Richer, a journalist famous for writing about Third World regimes, now jaded and unwillingly visiting a friend he had unceremoniously dumped.
Like most post-colonial literature (especially from my home country Ireland), 'A Hot Country' chooses to focus on the class in decline rather than the liberated former slaves, the resentful poor, the underclass, the politically disenfranchised, the 'mob'. This has the effect of pandering to the world-view of the assumed middle-class reader, even as it is criticised. And in that view, politics, history and other people are not scientific disciplines that can be analysed or understood with cause and effect precision, but as hazy and hallucinatory as the atmospheric effects created by the grey, mirror-like sea, the mouldering vegetation and the burning sun, as the somnolent lives and minds of the characters, especially Dina. We learn what independence, the increasing totlitarianism of and hostility towards the whites by the Marxist regime means to the declining elite, but the majority black population remain an enigmatic Other, their voices confined to malevolent stares, acts of violence and mass frenzy - the country is hot not just because of the rotting tropical climate, but because the old colonial town is being razed to the ground. Even Dina, the most coherent and least unsympathetic character, poised, as a Christianised Hindustani married to old gentry, between both worlds, seems less a suffering, feeling person, than an idea of what women should be in post-colonial, proto-feminist literature (at one point, she actually says, in conversation: 'Each morning, I have to re-invent myself'. Like you do).
Too many conversations are unnaturally staged to Inform The Reader; too many scenes are set up to be heavily symbolic. The book is written in that kind of verbose journalese you get in Coetzee, studiously trying to avoid the literary, the poetic, the beautiful; but also, by extension, the life-like.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decay the only recognizable law in this place 17 Dec 2008
By Rudolph M Ten-Pow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Re-reading Shiva Naipaul's 1983 novel more than two decades after I first read it has rewarded me with new insights and a fuller appreciation of this travel writer and commentator's commitment to his trade. The hot country of Cuyama is the thinly disguised Guyana of the early 1980s and I have long been surprised at the paucity of literature reflecting this turbulent period of Guyana's history. So kudos first to Shiva for tackling the subject. Having said that, the novel uneasily straddles the line between political commentary and the very promising human interest story of the couple, Aubrey and Dina, who are its principal characters. Too often the political voice stifles the story and too often the story suffers from the author's frustrating reluctance to follow logical developments in the plot line. Dina's dissatisfaction with her most "un-Cuyamese" husband is more than hinted at but never explored. The author does succeed, however, in recreating the pervasive atmosphere of menace and decay. At the international airport, "Soldiers attired in combat fatigues, rifles aslant on their shoulders, lurked in the shade of the eaves". And Naipaul's view of the country and the period is summed up in his concluding observation: "Nothing was ever repaired or even replaced. Whatever began to crumble was allowed to go on crumbling. Decay was the only recognizable law in this place. It was as if those who lived here did not merely have no use for beauty and order but were hostile to their very existence".
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