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Beyond Belief [Paperback]

V. S. Naipaul
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Jun 1999
This is a book about one of the more important and unsettling issues of our time. But it is not a book of opinion. It is - in the Naipaul way - a very rich and human book, full of people and stories. Islam is an Arab religion, and it makes imperial Arabizing demands on its converts. In this way it is more than a private faith; and it can become a neurosis. What has this Arab Islam done to the histories of Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia? How do the converted peoples view their past - and their future? In a follow-up to AMONG THE BELIEVERS, his classic account of his travels through these countries, V. S. Naipaul returns after a gap of seventeen years to find out how and what the converted preach. A startling and revelatory addition to the Naipaul canon, BEYOND BELIEF confirms the author's reputation as a masterful observer, a 'finder-out' of stories, as well as a magnificent teller of them. 'An admirable, thinking traveller ...a born narrator in the small or large scene. His strength lies in the tense pitch of his enquiry and in his narrative that brings people and landscape to life in flashes of telling detail' V.S. Pritchett


Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New edition edition (3 Jun 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349110107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349110103
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 740,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

With the publication of Paul Theroux's devastating memoir of his broken friendship with V.S. Naipaul, Sir Vidia's Shadow, Naipaul's reputation has been seriously revised in recent years. His early, lyrical novels like A House for Mr. Biswas quickly gave way to a darker, increasingly pessimistic and conservative vision of postcolonial chaos and cultural dislocation, reflected in novels like Guerillas and Naipaul's early travel books, such as India: A Wounded Civilisation.

One of the problems with dismissing Naipaul as a patrician cultural mandarin is that he tends to tussle with uncomfortable issues which lesser writers either avoid or romanticise. It is this desire to confront painful questions about religion, belief and belonging which characterises Naipaul's travel writing, and was a particular feature of his highly acclaimed study Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981), which chronicled his travels and observations through Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples should be read as a sequel to Among the Believers, as it relates the story of Naipaul's five-month journey to the countries he visited, and often the people he interviewed, nearly 20 years earlier. Beyond Belief is a fascinating, unrelenting story of Naipaul's travels through countries which have been subject to what Naipaul calls Islamic "conversion", and the people he encounters and their complex, problematic relations with their faith. Written with Naipaul's usual precision and elegance, Beyond Belief is a controversial and uncompromising read, which has been angrily denounced by the Muslim community. However, it is an excellent antidote to so much current travel writing which uncritically reproduces myths of the exotic orient, and should be read by anyone who wants to begin to travel throughout the non-Arabic Muslim world. --Jerry Brotton

Review

'He remains our most exhilarating explorer...' -- MARTIN AMIS

'Jewel like individual profiles are set in a filigree work of acute physical, cultural, historical and psychological detail' -- FINANCIAL TIMES

'Naipaul writes at his precise, observational best ... brilliant' -- OBSERVER

'One of the greatest living writers in the English language' -- ELIZABETH HARDWICK

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still as honest and insightful as ever 2 Oct 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
...I do not think that there is any sign of declining powers in Naipaul's most recent travel book. He continues to focus on the key intellectual and social dilemmas of the societies he visits, and successfully draws out people who are at the heart of these confusions. I kmow that it is unfashionable to expose the weaknesses of non-Western societies to public view, but Naipaul's message has always been that it is the ordinary people of these countries who suffer from the evasion of harsh truths. They are just as entitled to opportunities for educational advancement, freedom of expression and the like as we are in the West.
As for Naipaul's personal mindset, he does not approach the Islamic countries as a lapsed Brahmin, but as a rather patrician Westerner. I cannot think of another travel writer who is more perceptive about different types of religious experience while being seduced by none
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A convert has to reject his own history 25 Feb 2010
By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
By revisiting the countries and the people he described in a previous book (`Among the Believers'), V.S. Naipaul sees the former believers going `beyond belief'. Islam makes imperial demands. The `cruelty' of Islamic fundamentalism is that it allows only to one people, the Arabs, a past and sacred places. By making its own laws, it destroys native cultures and turns the converts into `ghosts'.

Indonesia
The ambition of the Islamic fundamentalists is not less than the take-over of this part of the world: `In politics you must not expect honesty and morality. The question of winning is the end result. If you put your ideas into the mind of your enemy, and he practices it, you are the winner.' Therefore, the motto is `to control the school is to possess power.'
Besides the destruction of the native culture, Islam destroys families through polygamy. Multiple marriages and easy divorce lead to damaged families, to a semi-orphaned society, with all kinds of financial distress. It also destroys women, forcing on them dress codes, which are `strange habits in a tropical country'.
The `beyond believers' formed a very small power circle of businessmen, politicians and religious leaders. `Connections' and howling with the wolves are the only means to live a decent life: `only corrupt people could afford a house'. The regime creates a mass of hypocrites and cynics.

Iran
The villagers who immigrated into the cities were confronted with new oil wealth and felt cheated by the Shah's land reforms. They voted for an Islamic Republic without knowing what it would be.
Some had believed that the fall of the Shah would bring a Western-style democratic government. On the other hand, the communist party (Tudeh) hoped to ride to power on the back of the religious movement.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Jay
Format:Paperback
This book rocks !!! And does it rock the propagation of Islam and its intentions amongst non Arab nations. Being a 5th generation Indian, the section on Pakistan interested me, and the concept of the nation forged upon a poetic dream. I agree That Islam is a very disciplined religion that has been grossly misinterpreted by many of its followers; Created by the word of God; hopelessly misinterpreted by many who don't deserve to mention God.

I wont be surprised if this publication has been banned in certain Islamic nations because it really goes for the upper cut.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Death of the Intellect 1 April 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Naipaul is arguably the greatest novelist writing in English today and his mastery of style and composition is no less marked in his non-fiction works. This present volume must rank as one of the best of the latter and reading it sends one back to the earlier work that inspired it, "Among the Believers", in which he detailed a similar journey in 1979. In some cases he even describes meetings with the same people as previously. The changes in the two decades since have seldom been for the better, to the extent to which the alternative title of the present book might well be "The Death of the Intellect". Naipaul deploys his brilliant powers of observation and description to the full in bringing to life the experiences of individuals from a wide variety of social classes and ethnic backgrounds, yet all trapped within a constricting web of dogma. The overall effect is depressing in the extreme as one encounters one life after another stunted by inability to reconcile religious beliefs with the realities of scientific discoveries, technological progress and human potential. It is Naipaul's particular genius to give the reader the very feel of the environments he portrayed, often by no more than mention of a few significant, though apparently inconsequential details. One puts this book down longing for another "A Bend in the River" and hopes that the ground covered in "Beyond Belief" might just provide a worthy theme.
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12 of 55 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Slightly Clever, Visceral but Flawed 28 Mar 2001
Format:Paperback
V.S.Naipaul's second journey into the Islamic world is a tortuous one for him and the (western) reader. It comes as no surprise to find the same themes (those of his earlier book "among the believers") reappearing with slight modifications in this book. His particular frustrations with the psyche of the oppressed has, it seems to me, come at a very high price to his erstwhile proclivity as a novelist. Though his insights into the confused minds of many post-colonial people render him, at times, close to revelatory insight they also delivery him, ever so rapidly into alleys of blindess. He is, for example, famously absent on those things which are likely to dissprove his findings, if they can be called that. As a traveller myself (and a westerner) his perspective is one which is routinely governed by a kind of internal malaise. A hypertrophied mind does not always make good literature; it sometimes (as with V.S.Naipual) empties it from within. I was somewhat shocked but not entirely surprised after reading the book. V.S.Naipaul's truncated Brahminism, the disorientation of his family's indentured status in Trinidad, may partly explain this sublimely jaundiced exercise in (self)discovery. The context in Trinidad may also explain this -`small -Islandism', where the brown suffers intense inferiority and will do, in the survival stakes, whatever it takes. This may mean doing what brown Trinidadians of Hindu origin are sometimes rather famous for doing; imagining themselves to be beyond the squalor in which they find themselves and by recourse to the very things which point to a dense poverty of soul, inferiority complexes and mimetic reflexes. In this half-way of `seeing' these various reflexes of survival appear to be his only guiding counsellors. Read more ›
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