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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

on 23 May 2008
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 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.

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

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

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.
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on 8 February 2004
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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