I'm trying very hard to figure out how I can review this book without coming across as an ignorant, bubble-headed liberal or a rabid racist. Hmmm... I don't think it's going to happen. North of South, by the late Shiva Naipaul, is essentially a travelogue of a trip to parts of Africa in the 1970's, specifically Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. Welded to the descriptions of people and scenery are sharp observations on class, racism, government and colonialism. Naipaul's eye misses nothing during his travel, and his anecdotes are both humorous and sad. It was interesting to see that this guy is the brother of V.S. Naipaul, who recently won a Nobel Prize for Literature. Anyway, this book is not going to be found on the syllabus of any black studies classes anytime soon.
North of South reveals Africa in all of its glory: degenerate, corrupt and lazy. What really stands out is how Africans have taken Western ideas and applied them to their own situations, often with laughable results. Take the case of Tanzanian Socialism. Naipaul can barely contain a chuckle at the absurdity of this situation. Almost everyone he meets praises the administration, but almost no one has any true sense of what it's all about (to be fair, the same could be said for most nations). The corruption is truly astonishing. Bribery abounds everywhere, especially at border crossings, where tourists are routinely harassed and threatened with imprisonment if their papers aren't in order. A story in which Naipaul is conned when he gets a shoeshine is a good example. Not only does the guy ruin his shoes, he tries to overcharge him in the process. Naipaul constantly has to shell out the bucks to get even the most basic services, if he gets them at all. Hotels are run down traps, prostitution is epidemic, and beggars and the unemployed are everywhere. The few situations where something actually works are attributed to the presence of white expatriates, and even here there is the danger that the black government will step in at any minute and expel the whites.
Probably the most bothersome aspect of this book, and one that costs Naipaul a star in my review, is the bias Naipaul shows in regards to the "Asian" population in Africa. The "Asians" are actually of Indian descent, as is Naipaul. Naipaul reveals that Africans are prejudiced against these Indians and he seems to take it personally (what a surprise! Blacks can actually be racists!). Much time is spent on this problem and it opens Naipaul up to charges of retaliatory prejudice. Naipaul is much more effective when he shows how both blacks and whites have their racist attitudes, and how both races have been brought down together through the process of colonialism.
This is an obscure book that probably will never get much attention in the politically correct atmosphere of America. If you want to make a liberal's head explode, buy this book and tuck it into their stocking next Christmas. If you need a break from the multicultural crowd, this is the book for you.