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The Writer and the World: Essays Paperback – 6 Sep 2002


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  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (6 Sept. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330412906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330412902
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,547,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The most splendid writer of English alive today. . . . He looks into the mad eye of history and does not blink." --"The Boston Globe " "It is altogether tonic to have a writer such as V. S. Naipaul in our midst. . . . This volume is as good a place as any to discover why he is a figure of such consequence." --Daphne Merkin, "The New York Times Book Review ""Naipaul brings to the [nonfiction] genre an extraordinary capacity for making art out of lucid thought. . . . [His is] a way of thinking about the world that will compel our attention throughout his working life and well beyond. . . . I can no longer imagine the world without Naipaul's writing." --Vivian Gornick, "Los Angeles Times Book Review ""Perceptive . . . inspired, provocative. . . . Naipaul has succeeded in richly articulating a writer's engagement with and exploration of the world." -"The San Diego Union-Tribune""A profound, bracing meditation on the legacy of the colonial world. . . . His writing [offers] the world through eyes possessed of a noble clarity." -"Pittsburgh Post-Gazette""A welcome and worthy volume. . . . Only Naipaul can take a dim view of so much and so many, yet keep that dimness fantastically illuminated. . . . His prose is often simultaneously a blunt instrument and a surgical one, equally freighted with broad dismissive statements and blood-lettingly dissective insight." -"San Francisco Chronicle""The quality and credibility of Naipaul's words become apparent when you find yourself savoring [his] descriptions. . . . Once finished with the collection, the reader will never see the world through the same eyes again." -"Fort Worth Star-Telegram""Witheringlyastute. . . . One of our finest living writers. . . . Naipaul's is a crystalline, no-nonsense style. . . . He gives you the real world." -"The Weekly Standard""Naipaul is essential reading today for anyone interested in a dissection of the universal tension that exists now between the East and the West. . . . His scholarship is exhaustive, his intuition trustworthy, and his scrutiny is unwavering." -"The Oregonian""Wonderfully insightful. . . . Few writers are as qualified for the present moment, and few writers are as needed." -"The Orlando Sentinel""Naipaul forces the traveler to think. . . . [He is] ever curious, ever exact in his observations." -"Austin American-Statesman""Splendid. . . . Elegant and understated. . . . Naipaul is insatiable in his pursuit of facts and brilliant in his analysis of them." -"The Sunday Star-Ledger ""Naipaul's essays . . . depict a chaotic world, torn by ethnic, religious and cultural antagonisms, but they also discover the humanity that unites us, and thereby provide the kind of reassurance that perhaps only literature affords." -"San Jose Mercury News" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

This collection of V.S. Naipaul's essays, the first of two volumes, showcases a lifetime of intelligent and profoundly enjoyable writing. It features pieces taken from his earlier books - The Overcrowded Barracoon, The Return of Eva Peron and Finding the Centre - and also includes several previously uncollected essays. Concentrating mainly on V.S. Naipaul's writings about India, the Americas, Africa and the Diaspora, it is a clear-eyed and magnificent introduction to the writer's extraordinary world. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 May 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In these sarcastic and sometimes cynical texts, V.S. Naipaul brushes a bleak picture of the state of the world, based mostly on his travels in the Third World (India, Africa, South- and Central America).
Written mostly in the 1970s, a big part of his analyses are still very actual today: deliberately blind or lying governments, plundering elites, the victimizing of women and children, would-be revolutionaries or people in power serving only their own agendas, fundamentalism beyond religion, population explosion, unemployment or destitution. His vision of civilization is more acute today than ever.

India
India struggles under the yoke of a caste system: `A Hindu doesn't have the Christian social sense; caste is not class. No one denies his caste or seeks to move out of it.'
Its elite only thinks of plundering. But the overall astonishing attitude is one of lethargy. When a famine breaks out in Bihar, the reaction is: Is this news?

Mauritius (The Overcrowded Barracoon)
The government prefers to be blind for the link between population explosion, unemployment and destitution.

Ivory Coast (The Crocodiles of Yamoussouko)
The population continues to live with utmost fear under the spell of black magic, needing human (!) sacrifices (mostly children) to assuage it.
The aim of the pharaonic project of Yamoussouko is to control this magic spell.

Zaire (A new king for Congo)
The kingdom of Mobutu became its own end, leaving its population alone to look for a survival strategy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By RoadToMandalay on 8 Feb. 2004
Format: Paperback
These essays, many of which are over 30 years old, are aging beautifully. Indeed, history has proven quite a few of Naipaul's hunches correct: The Crocodiles of Yamasoukro touches on the hollowness of the "miracle" of the Cote d'Ivoire; the Return of Eva Peron puts Argentina's most recent political and economic hemmoraging in a useful context.
The collection is also fun to read. Analyses of Naipaul's work often dwell on its dystopic aspect, but that's just one element. The experience of reading Naipaul is, more importantly, illuminating and exciting. At his best, Naipaul articulates what was before a vague presentiment, and so ratchets up, by another notch or two, our understanding of a particular society.
The piece on a Republican Convention in the 80s was a bit stale and seemed old hat. But that's a quibble. Overall, this book demonstrates why the Nobel Committee chose Naipaul, and why his work is essential to an understanding of our world today.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
It's all MAGIC if you don't understand CAUSE and EFFECT! 11 July 2007
By R. Turner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Some countries are going places, some are not. Ever been someplace on the planet where not much of anything really works? Like lights, water, phones, transportation, agriculture, healthcare ... forget elevators.

V.S. Naipaul nails the key attributes at an early age: tribalism, magic, double lives and my favorite, lack of maintenance. He looks for the best in every location but discovers what is behind the curtain. Not a politically correct book but a surprisingly accurate set of predictions and explanations. Enjoy the trip.
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Debatable- although a Nobel laureate's work. 3 May 2003
By A. Dani - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When one reads Naipaul's nonfictional essays, and compares them with his fictional works, one is most certainly not as impressed. In this prolific collection- 550+ pages, Naipaul documents his diverse essays, on diverse topics, from India to Anguilla, from New York, to Algeria. Let me begin with the first essay, which, not surprisingly, regards a visit to the city of Calcutta. There is a slight background material- about Trinidad, and then starts the prophet-of-doomsday attitude. One is almost irked when continually perusing through words like "decaying", "morbid", "ruin". If India would actually be a dying culture, it would have by now been history. But it still persists, flourishes, and exports it culture. Naipaul is relentlessly critical of Indians, deeming them "indifferent", "primitive", etc. He lashes out at Hinduism with a sudden passionate loathing- "The barbaric rituals of Hinduism are barbaric, the idea of the holy cow is absurd." All this gives an impression of a ceaslessly pessimistic man, who is born to extract only the most troubling aspects of Indians, ignoring the democracy, ignoring the culture, ignoring the slow progress, ignoring the values- in short, making a thorn of every petal. But, one must admit, Naipaul's opinions about India are true, and being an Indian myself, it is nothing extraordinary. But of cruelty, and malice, one does not approve- Naipaul's satire on the Indian accent: "Esomerset, Eshelly, Eshakespeare", is almost as if Naipaul is on some evil mission to forever degrade common people. If writing about such extraneous incidents is your idea of humor, Mr. Naipaul, certainly we do not approve it. This attitude of rooting out the utmost filth out of a poor country, reveals how depressed Naipaul is, and how audacious, let go haughty.
But there is something almost magical about Naipaul's words, his interpretations are often profound, and his humor cultivated. The second essay, about the election in Ajmer, is captivating. At the end, you feel as if there lies a novel in the entire essay on the election, and a good revelation on the politics of India. Gradually, the essays become less profound, more documental, and more random. But one question still haunts- if Naipaul glorifies the West, and rubbishes the third world, how come most of his writings are on the third world, or non-western cultures? Why not write about Germany? The reason is that Naipaul finds material to criticize to be absent in the West- it merely serves as a model- a model of perfection, and a useful tool for deriding colonial peoples, though deriding impressively.
28 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.4 Stars 24 Oct. 2002
By pnotley@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
What can one say about V.S. Naipaul the essayist? This collection contains most of the shorter pieces that have made his reputation. There are the beginning pieces on India, and there are the well-known essays on Michael X, on Mobutu, on the collapse of Argentina in the 1970s. There are also the later pieces on the failed Grenadian revolution and on Cheddi Jagan, the Marxist Guyanan politician who was kept out of power by American and British electoral skullduggery. There are also several essays on America, including ones on Steinbeck, a surprisingly uncontemptuous piece on Norman Mailer's 1969 mayoralty campaign and a particularly perceptive piece on the 1984 Republican convention. And finally there is the concluding essay "Our Universal Civilization."
Surely there is much to support the opinion of Naipaul's enthusiastic followers who at the same time have praised him for refuting liberal sentimentalities. There is the fine readable prose and the cutting observation. One notes this in the essay about the election campaign in India where the conservative candidate spouts pseudo-Gandhian rhetoric about the purity of agriculture in a land of desperate poverty. The candidate even says that piped water would only make the women who spend several hours going back and forth to wells lazy. There is the theme of a lethal sentimentality: On the Jan Singh party "Like parties of the extreme right elsewhere, the Jan Singh dealt in anger, simplified scholarship and, above all, sentimentality." On Steinbeck: "His sentimentality, when prompted by anger and conscience, was part of his strength as a writer. Without anger or the cause of anger he writes fairy-tales." On Republican Party Ideology: "Americanism had become the conservative cause, and Americanism was most easily grasped, most ideal and most sentimental (sentimentality being important to any cause of the right) in comic books...and the lesser cinema." In the essay on the return of Peronism there are many caustic remarks against Jorge Luis Borges, about Borges' failure to critically analyze his country's past, the theme of racial degeneration in his work, and his tasteless jokes about the systematically slaughtered Argentinean Indians. Likewise, there is some truth when Naipaul says of Argentina that "...to be European in Argentina was to be colonial in the most damaging way. It was to be parasitic. It was to claim...the achievements and authority of Europe as one's own", even if it is more true of, say, Canada. And certainly many of the essays are very powerful: such as the essay on Michael X, a self-serving thug and hustler who prattled "Black Power" rhetoric in Trinidad before murdering two followers and being hanged for them.
One should criticize his view of Islam, starting with his use of the term "Mohammedan." Naipaul argues that the imperial conquests of Islam were especially nasty in the way that the Arab culture simply denounced the pre-existing culture into oblivion. This is an oversimplification for several reasons. First off, the examples he uses, Pakistan and Iran in 1979, are not typical even of those countries' long histories, let alone of other countries like Indonesia or Nigeria. Secondly, one can find equally boneheaded comments in the history of Christianity, whether it is of Augustine and other church fathers dismissing Aristotle and Plato, or the Protestant Reformation's lack of enthusiasm for the Renaissance. Thirdly, what about Christianity and American Indians?
Nevertheless when one looks at the essays on Mobutu's Zaire, now collapsed into brutal civil war, or at the essays on Argentina before the Dirty War or the nervous essay on the Ivory Coast before President Houphouet-Boigny apparently "successful" rule collapsed into disaster. Surely one can only praise Naipaul for his prophetic talents, for the courage of his pessimism? Quite frankly, I have some doubts. If sentimentality is unearned emotion, it should be remembered that pessimism can be unearned as well. Consider the essays, written more than thirty years ago, about Belize and Mauritius. They are just as pessimistic as the others, about mass unemployment, overpopulation and empty politics. Notwithstanding that the two small countries have remained democratic states for the past three decades, not something one would have predicted from Naipaul. The concentration on superstition and magic can be amusing: Naipaul relates a report about an old Indian sage who claimed that he was now able to walk on water, arranged an elaborate demonstration, and promptly sank. But whether it is India, or the Ivory Coast, or Argentina, Naipaul is always looking for something silly or superstitious and this palls. There is much that is depressing about Argentina: but to say that Argentina has produced nothing more than New Zealand is cheap, and Naipaul does not even bother to mention Sabato, Cortazar or Puig, who might challenge this view. It also strikes me as gross oversimplification, to say the least, that the essence of Argentine sexuality is brutal heterosexual sodomy. There is something profoundly unhelpful about all this: professional pessimists too have the luxury of having return tickets in their pockets, and when conservatives praise Naipaul one feels that it is because he grants his subjects just enough freedom to justify their condemnation into hell.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Civilization should be the pursuit of happiness 23 May 2008
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In these sarcastic and sometimes cynical texts, V.S. Naipaul brushes a bleak picture of the state of the world, based mostly on his travels in the Third World (India, Africa, South- and Central America).
Written mostly in the 1970s, a big part of his analyses are still very actual today: deliberately blind or lying governments, plundering elites, the victimizing of women and children, would-be revolutionaries or people in power serving only their own agendas, fundamentalism beyond religion, population explosion, unemployment or destitution. His vision of civilization is more acute today than ever.

India
India struggles under the yoke of a caste system: `A Hindu doesn't have the Christian social sense; caste is not class. No one denies his caste or seeks to move out of it.'
Its elite only thinks of plundering. But the overall astonishing attitude is one of lethargy. When a famine breaks out in Bihar, the reaction is: Is this news?

Mauritius (The Overcrowded Barracoon)
The government prefers to be blind for the link between population explosion, unemployment and destitution.

Ivory Coast (The Crocodiles of Yamoussouko)
The population continues to live with utmost fear under the spell of black magic, needing human (!) sacrifices (mostly children) to assuage it.
The aim of the pharaonic project of Yamoussouko is to control this magic spell.

Zaire (A new king for Congo)
The kingdom of Mobutu became its own end, leaving its population alone to look for a survival strategy.

Trinidad (Michael X and the Black Power killings in Trinidad)
A sadistic, racist madman was supported by `people who substitute doctrine for knowledge and irritation for concern, but in the end do not more than celebrate their own security.'
A terrible real horror story.

Argentina
V.S. Naipaul sees a country ruled by the idea of plunder and machismo with its victimization of women (The Brothels in the Graveyard).

Uruguay
In the state oil company there were more employees than chairs.

U.S.
The R. Reagan convention showed fundamentalism beyond religion. It simplified the world by rolling together different kind of anxieties: school, race, buggery, Russia, communism.

V.S. Naipaul's vision
His golden rule is the one of J.S. Mill: `Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.'
`Philosophical diffidence meets philosophical hysteria; and the diffident man is, at the end, the more in control.'
The aim of all civilizations should be the pursuit of happiness for its overall population.

This book contains also a visit to Steinbeck's `Cannery Row' after all these years, comments on the Grenada coup, the works of J.L. Borges or the political campaign of N. Mailer.

V.S. Naipaul is a very astute traveler with an eagle's eye for the essence, the real aims and issues and the real behavior behind the veil of palavers, palaces, powers and politics.
Not to be missed.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Looking through a glass darkly. Always. 23 Aug. 2004
By V. J. Peters - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Naipaul's essays are an exercise in bluntness. Not for this man the frills, the wide eyed wonder through which some eyes view the world. Naipaul is the High Priest of dismantling national myths. Especially myths that glorify nation states at the expense of historial reality. Witness his essay on Argentina. Argentina is seen as a bastion of Old European culture, an island unto itself, unwilling to engage in dialogue with its neighbors. This essay will by no means be printed either in the New York Times, the L.A. Times or London's Guardian. His impression of Madagascar is disheartening. Elsewhere his disenchantment with his ancestral home, India, is brutal as well. The only nation that seems to escape censure is the United States. It is to him the symbol of hope and entrepreneurship.

In contrast to V.S. Naipaul stands Jan Morris. I prefer her to Naipaul. Like Charles Lamb, she trudges the highways and byways of each place she visits. She is quick to loose herself with joyous abandon, slow to censure. Ultimately it is Miss Morris' writings that made me walk with a spring in my step. Naipaul is too angry. Our world is too much with him.
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