First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
A Bend in the River is more than a true and powerful book about Africa. It is… one of those books that make you question many assumptions about the world today.’ ~ Richard West in the Spectator
In the “brilliant novel” (The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man—an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isolated town at the bend of a great river in a newly independent African nation. Naipaul gives us the most convincing and disturbing vision yet of what happens in a place caught between the dangerously alluring modern world and its own tenacious past and traditions. (Source: Goodreads)
And it is the weekend! I hope that despite the challenges, you all had a great week, or at least you had a great wrap-up to the week. I hope you were able to accomplish everything you set out to accomplish at the start of the week. If it did not go the way you wanted it to, I hope that you will utilize the weekend to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. Or you use to pursue the things you’re passionate about. You deserve it. But dang, time is in such a hurry. In a couple of weeks, we will be welcoming 2023. A lot has happened in the past few months but, at the same time, it feels that not a lot has happened. Oh well, inflation is crazy as hell and is crippling our ability to purchase even the most basic of our needs. Prices are skyrocketing. My wish this Christmas is for the prices to stabilize and for COVID-19 to be finally eradicated. More importantly, as the year draws to a close, I hope that your prayers get answered. I hope that you get repaid for the hard work you poured in this year. Above all, I hope and pray that everyone is doing great, in body, mind, and spirit.
With the weekends, I also hope you get to pursue things you are passionate about. My weekends lately have been preoccupied with tennis games and reading. Speaking of reading, I know it is kind of late but let me cap the work week with a First Impression Friday update. Fridays previously have been brimming with activities that I barely manage to update at the right time. Haha. After spending two months reading works of American literature, several of which are part of my active reading challenges, I have shifted my focus to the other books that form part of these said challenges. I am nearly done with my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge and my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. One of the books I listed for the latter is Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul is more known for the shortened version of his name, V.S. Naipaul.
My first encounter with Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was through must-read lists. Several of his works were part of said lists. Some of them, like A Bend in the River, were even listed among the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. These were enough reasons for me to be curious about his oeuvre but, unfortunately, it took me some time before I was finally able to obtain any of his works. I would eventually learn that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, further piquing my interest in his works. Thankfully, I was able to obtain A Bend in the River last year, and, because of my anticipation, I made the book part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List.
It was quite a surprise finding myself in post-colonial mid-20th century Africa. I knew that Naipaul was British but was born in Trinidad and Tobago and had an Indian heritage. My first novel by the Nobel laureate in literature nevertheless surprised me. Oh well. The novel was related through the point of view of Salim, a merchant of Arab heritage who grew up in a community of ethnically Indian Muslims in an unnamed country on the east African coast. With the political shifts occurring everywhere on the African coast, Salim deemed it prudent to move to the African interior. It was around this time that a family friend, Nazruddin, returned to the coast after spending years in the interior. Nazruddin offered Salim his trading goods shop located in a former colonial town located at the titular bend in a major river.
The novel was published in 1979 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In his new home, Salim met an eclectic cast of characters, among them Zabeth. She was a trader and was Salim’s first customer. She also had the reputation of being the local witch, enchanting herself with pungent ointments to keep evil spirits at bay. Or perhaps to protect herself from the evil designs of men in general. Metty, on the other hand, was a former slave and was hired by Salim to be his assistant. Another character was Ferdinand, Zabeth’s son. Zabeth sought Salim’s help in looking after her son who recently enrolled in a school close to his shop. In a sleight of a hand, Naipaul managed to set out the landscape of the story.
At the same time, Naipaul managed to capture the changes taking place in the African landscape. It seems that the town on the bend of the river was a microcosm of Africa. and of the changes that were taking place all over the African continent. All over the continent, former colonies were gaining their independence from their subjugators. It was not without a price as political turmoil was rife. Meanwhile, post-colonial towns are being inundated. They were vestiges of Africa’s colonial past. The characters also were representations of the African populace. Zabeth is an allegory for traditions while Ferdinand represented the changing attitude, i.e. the premium placed on education. These were depicted while also grappling with the other facet of African history, such as slavery and colonialism.
For a book that seems rather slim, A Bendi in the Road has a lot to unpack. It is no wonder that it is one of his most popular works. Naipaul’s accessible writing complimented the story; he rarely gets too technical. While the novel grappled with themes ubiquitous in post-colonial literature, I am interested in how Naipaul breathes new life into this narrative. Allegories abound in the story and they do make the story more interesting. I can’t wait to see how Naipaul encapsulates the vast ambit of contemporary African history in his novel. I am hoping to finish the book over the weekend. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!