A Bend in the River

by V.S. Naipaul

This novel concerns an Indian man, living on the east coast of Africa with his family of birth, who decides as an adult to move away to an interior African nation, one that is both nascent and more remote. The new Africa is portrayed as a place where one's fate may be at once arbitrary, brutish, and indeterminate. Naipaul crafts a tale imbued with a subtle but omnipresent feeling of instability, or maybe even fear.

I don't have much to say here, nor did I mark any passages that bear repeating. The book is of course well written, but the story as a gestalt doesn't resonate with me personally. (However, there are a few individual chapters in the protagonist's life that I find profound in that they synchronously dovetail with current stuff going on with me.) Most of the book reads like geopolitical nonfiction—not why Classic Bitch reads the classics—and I half wonder if Naipaul isn't thinly veiling his take on the very real history of Uganda under Idi Amin. But if the backdrop is fear here—as I sense as a reader—I'm not getting much other than a fairly flat affect out of the main character. The irony works of course, in the chaos that is this African nation with conflicting understanding of self, but that's about it.

I'd like to add a quick comment on the fact that we're through the first 18 books on the bottom of the list, and book number 83, A Bend in the River, marks the first time that a protagonist's first name is the same as that of a protagonist in a novel already covered. Normally this would not be remarkable if, say, the name were something like John or Mary. But the name is Salim, like that of another least favorite novel of Classic Bitch, Midnight's Children, in which the main character's first name is Saleem. Not Frank or George or Bob or Mike or Jim or Susan or Sarah or Ann. Salim. Saleem. I think we can put the criticism of the Modern Library's "ethnocentrism" to bed now. Good night. (Stay tuned for a final ruling on "gender-bias.")

(If you're into it, a far better novel with Africa as setting is Mating by Norman Rush. This hopefully also adds to the already extant proof that Classic Bitch is not herself ethnocentric or maybe just some philistine. Check it out.)