Monday, November 29, 2004

New Naipaul Book Chases Old Scapegoats

James Atlas reviews Naipaul's new book, Magic Seeds, in the New York Times. He writes at length about Naipaul's career before finally revealing a plot summary that resembles about a dozen of Naipaul's other books. For me, the key moment in the review is the paragraph where Atlas acknowledges that this novel is in fact not so different from many others Naipaul has written:

What is the significance of these corrupt revolutionaries in Naipaul's work? Why do they weigh so heavily on his mind? My own surmise is that they represent the reverse of his own response to statelessness. Not that Naipaul is a supplicant, eager to erase all traces of his origins and become a lord dozing in his armchair at the Athenaeum; he has maintained his independence with fierce pride. Rather, he deplores their nihilism; its futility humiliates and enrages him. ''Sometimes in a storm beautiful old trees are uprooted,'' says Willie's sister, Sarojini. For Naipaul, the answer to rootlessness is not to mindlessly uproot, but to nurture one's own identity -- to plant.

I don't buy it. I am more pro-Naipaul than many of my colleagues. I have written several papers on him; there is a section of my book on his changing relationship to secularism. But there is no excuse for writing the same book a dozen times. Also: How is the idea of middle-class Europeans (or westernized third world intellectuals) joining third-world revolutionary struggles relevant to our era? I can't see it. And who is this writer who favors the "nurturing of one's own identity"? It isn't Naipaul -- no way, no how.

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