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4.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling and Virtuosic Take on Displacement, 5 Jan 2009
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This review is from: In A Free State : (Paperback)
The overarching theme in V. S. Naipaul¡存 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¡存 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. The newly independent state is falling apart. Political rivalry between the newly elected President and the local king reaches a head when the king is assassinated by the President's men. Though the novel does not explicitly state it, hell - ethnic cleansing and internecine violence - will soon be let loose on this small country.

In a Free State is a deeply unsettling yet poignant reminder of the challenges of migration and fitting in. Once it grips you the novel does not let go. Instead, it gnaws deeper and deeper and leaves a funny but strangely satisfying taste in the mouth. After reading Naipaul¡存 Half a Life I thought that I had seen it all. Naipaul is an undisputed master of the English language; his control of the language is Mephistophelian. I felt like an fly caught in Naipaul¡存 web; too stupid to avoid the web in the first place yet enchanted by the artistry of its design. In a Free State deserves 4 stars.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Jan 2009 00:43:27 GMT
Last edited by the author on 10 Jan 2009 00:46:12 GMT
kaos says:
Hi Akemu. I respect your reviews a lot! They're always on the money. And that's why i wish to ask: Will you be interested in reviewing, pre-publication, a Nigerian-set novel due for release in the UK in Autumn 2009? Kindly let me know by posting a reply. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2009 00:01:51 BDT
Hello Kaos,
Strangely, I only noticed your comment today (09.04.09). Yes, I'd love to review the novel. If I may ask, who is the author of the novel due for release in Autumn 2009?
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