Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Naipul's Wisdom

VV.S. Naipaul’s new book, Magic Seeds, is out, and Michiko Kakutani, not surprisingly, skewers it. The best quote:

Mr. Naipaul has frequently written about his impatience with
third-world revolutionaries in thrall to borrowed ideologies and radical chic Westerners with round-trip tickets to troubled lands, and he tries to attach to Willie's story a cut-and-dried moral about these sorts of people. "It is wrong to have an ideal view of the world," he has Willie think at the end of the novel. "That's where the mischief starts. That's where everything starts unraveling."

James Atlas, in his NYTBR review, admires Naipaul, but at best is ambiguous about the novel. Maybe Naipaul has had enough, Atlas quotes him:

''I have no faith in the survival of the novel. It is almost over. The world has
changed and people do not have the time to give that a book requires.''

Let’s hope not. Life is much more enjoyable with novels around. Of course, there are too many bad ones.

However, the key quote is:

At the heart of Naipaul's experience of the world is a cruel dividedness -- prophetic, as it would turn out. His travel writing anticipates our post-9/11 world. ''Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief,'' he has written. ''It makes imperial demands. A convert's worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands.'' There is no place in such a worldview for modernized society. ''The convert has to turn away from everything that is his''

It sounds like Naipaul latest is far from his best, but he is clearly a wise man for our age. And a look back at his early fiction and nonfiction would serve us well.


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