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In a Free State [Paperback]

V. S. Naipaul
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Aug 2011

In a Free State was conceived in 1969 as a sequence about displacement. There was to be a central novel, set in Africa, with shorter surrounding matter from other places. The shorter pieces from these varied places were intended to throw a universal light on the African material.

But then, as the years passed and the world changed, and I felt myself less of an oddity as a writer, I grew to feel that the central novel was muffled and diminished by the surrounding material and I began to think that the novel should be published on its own. This is what, many years after its first publication, my publisher is doing in this edition.’ V. S. Naipaul.

In a Free State is set in Africa, in a place like Uganda or Rwanda, and its two main characters are English. They had once found liberation in Africa. But now Africa is going sour on them. The land is no longer safe, and at a time of tribal conflict they have to make a long drive to the safety of their compound. At the end of this drive – the narrative tight, wonderfully constructed, the formal and precise language always instilled with violence and rage – we know everything about the English characters, the African country, and the Idi Amin-like future awaiting it.

This is one of V. S. Naipaul’s greatest novels, hard but full of pity. It won the Booker Prize, in its original edition, in 1971.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (19 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330522906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330522908
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 235,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"V. S. Naipaul tells stories which show us ourselves and the reality we live in. His use of language is as precise as it is beautiful." -- "The London Times" "A Tolstoyan spirit....The so-called Third World has produced no more brilliant literary artist." --John Updike, "The New Yorker " "The coolest literary eye and the most lucid prose we have." "--The New York"

About the Author

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction, including Half a Life, A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River and most recently The Masque of Africa, and a collection of correspondence, Letters Between a Father and Son. In 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction, including Half a Life, A House for Mr Biswas, A Bend in the River and most recently The Masque of Africa, and a collection of letters, Between a Father and Son. In 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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I AM NOW an American citizen and I live in Washington, capital of the world. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The five stories that make up IAFS travel from international waters, America, India, Britain, The West Indies, unnamed Africa to Egypt. If Naipaul’s scope of geography is great then his sense of linking different people in different places together is even greater. Even though the book is made up from different stories that bear no relation to each other they all have a link in their main characters seeing another country and culture as a stranger as they travel from home.
The travel log of a traveller making his way to Egypt sandwiches the middle three stories. These two pieces are the least impressive of the books contents but set the scene for writings on displacement and cultural interaction. Particularly the observations of some Chinese communists at the end of the story highlight the theme of freedom Naipaul is illustrating through out the book- effectively the Chinese try to offer poor Egyptians freedom in the form of Marxism and this remains the most generous proposal during all the stories.
The second story (One Out Of Many) follows an Indian immigrant, Santoosh, in Washington DC who’s financial luck improves in the USA but at the cost to his self-identity and free choice. Santoosh is possibly the most sympathetic character throughout IAFS and his plight brings home to the reader how hard it can be, socially, for a person arriving in a new culture.
The middle piece (Tell Me Who To Kill) shows how circumstances of racism, unfairness and unfulfilled dreams can bring out the anger and disappointment in someone. The unnamed narrator of this story leaves his home in the West Indies to head for London where his brother is supposed to be studying.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging but bleak 9 July 2005
By Colin C
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This won the Booker in the early 1970s, but I would say that its status as a novel is questionable. 'In a Free State' consists of a central narrative about two people on a desperate road trip through an African country in the throes of revolution, framed by short story fragments on the same theme - displacement - at the beginning and the end.
The overall effect on the reader of this collection of stories concerning people struggling to feel at home in foreign lands is powerful, and the prose is elegant and carefully pared down, but still descriptive enough to be evocative of the settings(America, London, Africa, Egypt).
Recommended, but in no way uplifting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling and Virtuosic Take on Displacement 5 Jan 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The overarching theme in V. S. Naipaul¡¦s novels is displacement - usually as a result of migration. By telling three stories, Naipaul weaves an exquisite tale on the subject of "fitting in" in a non-native culture. The three stories are respectively:

- An Indian servant who moves from Bombay to Washington D.C. with his diplomat master
- British expatriate workers who have moved to Africa in search of personal redemption (or so we are made to believe)
- A West Indian student and his brother, who move to London

The Indian servant, who seemed to be content with his lot in life (being a servant to a 'superior') moves to Washington D.C. While in D.C., his acquaintance with 'hubshi' (African Americans) challenges his concept of self and his place in the world. The scales eventually fall from the servant¡¦s eyes and he eventually leaves his master to marry a hubshi. Yes, our servant becomes a US citizen, achieving his American dream but still feels a sense of loss and emptiness.

The novel moves to a small, newly-independent African country sometime in the 1960's. Two British expats, Bobby and Linda, are taking a drive to the 'white' compound on the other side of the country. As they drive and chatter, they unveil their motivations for coming to Africa and their perceptions of their place in it. Our expats are anything but enlightened. Indeed, they are mass of contradictions: for example, they betray their hopes of redemption while in Africa and yet display crass racial prejudice against the Africans.

The exchanges between Bobby and Linda are simply exquisite. I was immediately transported to the backseat of their car on that dirt road in Africa. The Africa of their dreams is shattering around them.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In A Free State? 4 Sep 2003
In a Free State is one of the great cultural fiction books of the last century, combining fictious characters in real life cultures. The supporting narratives along with the main novel make an excellent thought-provoking read about the differences in culture across the globe, the changes that may seem so subtle for an outsider escalated to great fears by the characters living in those situations.
The first narrative is a brief account of an Indian servant, Santosh, who travels from Bombay to Washington, with his employer. The tale written in first person portrays the struggles that Santosh faces, as he has left his homeland and is placed in a alien culture, he can not understand. The second narrative, Tell Me who to Kill, describes the search of another man pulled between two cultures, as he travels to London to help his brother.
The main novel, is the essence of cultural conflict, set in the war torn continent of Africa, and joins two English characters, working for the government, as they travel along the roads of the state towards the compound. The country has split in two, and tribal conflict has taken over. While the two english characters, Bobby and Linda remain somewhat neutral, in an effort to bring peace, their opposing views make interested conversations on their journey, coupled with numerous incidents along the way, the situation of the country begins to unfold.
An insightful, though sometimes brutal look at the changes in culture and effects of boundaries on continents, countries, tribes, and individual characters. A thoroughly readable book, by the excellent V.S. Naipul whose effortless writing conjures such a real atmosphere.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Nepal's writing is excellent and this account of the experiences of ex pats in Africa revealing.
Published 1 month ago by Christine Denovan
3.0 out of 5 stars Freedom isn't what it used to be...
The copy I read was a printing of the original book which won the 1971 Booker Prize. The author subsequently agreed with the publisher to allow the central African novella to be... Read more
Published 5 months ago by John Goddard
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful novella
This version of "In a free state" contains only the central novella, but what an interesting read it is. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr. S. Harris
1.0 out of 5 stars Rating for missing material
The book itself is a masterpiece, but in downloading the Kindle version, I found it was missing seminal pieces such as 'One out of Many' for which I had purchased the kindle... Read more
Published 7 months ago by vikki650
3.0 out of 5 stars What is V. S. Naipaul's attitude to black Africans?
I could have given this a higher rating and the reason I didn't was that there is not a single likeable character in the book. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Marge
1.0 out of 5 stars Not the full Book!
In a Free State: The Novel is NOT the full book. It is the central novel without the supporting stories that constituted the edition that won the Booker prize. Read more
Published 20 months ago by More Guinness
3.0 out of 5 stars studies in disillusionment and chaos
THis collection is one of Naipaul's darkest. While I dutifully plowed through it, I was depressed by the emptiness and psycholigical terror of just about every story. Read more
Published on 8 May 2011 by rob crawford
3.0 out of 5 stars Puzzling
I enjoyed this book of short stories a little more than my previous Naipaul- a House for Mr. Biswas. Read more
Published on 5 Oct 2010 by Hugh Sedon
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read
this is fiction writing at its finest. The novella 'In a free state' is beautifully written.
Published on 7 May 2009 by V. Joshi
5.0 out of 5 stars Freedom?
In V.S. Naipaul's novel all main characters are looking and longing for (a little) freedom: the emigrants, the colonists, the tourists and the universal freedom seeker, the tramp... Read more
Published on 28 April 2009 by Luc REYNAERT
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