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In a Free State: A Novel Paperback – February 12, 2002

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Editorial Reviews


“V. S. Naipaul tells stories which show us ourselves and the reality we live in. His use of language is as precise as it is beautiful.” — The London Times

“A Tolstoyan spirit....The so-called Third World has produced no more brilliant literary artist.” —John Updike, The New Yorker

“The coolest literary eye and the most lucid prose we have.” —The New York

From the Inside Flap

No writer has rendered our boundariless, post-colonial world more acutely or prophetically than V. S. Naipaul, or given its upheavals such a hauntingly human face. A perfect case in point is this riveting novel, a masterful and stylishly rendered narrative of emigration, dislocation, and dread, accompanied by four supporting narratives.

In the beginning it is just a car trip through Africa. Two English people--Bobby, a civil servant with a guilty appetite for African boys, and Linda, a supercilious ?compound wife? [117]-- are driving back to their enclave after a stay in the capital [111]. But in between lies the landscape of an unnamed country whose squalor and ethnic bloodletting suggest Idi Amin?s Uganda. [111-12, 120, 130-1, 150, 178, 220-40] And the farther Naipaul?s protagonists travel into it, the more they find themselves crossing the line that separates privileged outsiders from horrified victims. Alongside this Conradian tour de force are four incisive portraits of men seeking liberation far from home. By turns funny and terrifying, sorrowful and unsparing, In A Free State is Naipaul at his best.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International ed edition (February 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400030552
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030552
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #670,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
So said the disillusioned and dejected West Indian when confronted with the reality of his ruined life in London. His brother had taken advantage of him, and having denied himself for his brother's sake, the betrayal was all the more bitter. Hate and revenge are now his primary emotions and he shows this with his words "tell me who to kill", the title of one of this book's five stories. The stories are principally about the emotional weight carried by strangers in foreign lands (West Indians in England, Indians in the U.S, English in Africa), and the cultural anomie that comes with it.
This book which won England's Booker prize in 1971 is comprised of two novellas, the short-story that is the book's title and a prologue and epilogue which are in the narrator's voice and describe impressions from his travel journal. Besides exploring the theme of alienation, the common thread that connects these stories is the search for what it is that causes the destructive impulses that lie deep within us to rise to the surface.
In a more recent book, READING AND WRITING, Naipaul in talking about his art said "one day, in my almost fixed depression, I began to see what my material might be" In homage to his brooding inspiration this book then is an excellent exploration of Naipaul's well known darker themes. What makes us cruel to one another? Why do we fear, hate, and oppress others? The stories are harsh and imaginatively cruel: The irrational beating of a hapless tramp and the whipping of some poor Egyptian children who were scrounging for sandwiches tossed by Italian tourists.
Naipaul is genre-bending with his fiction and where others may feel compelled to offer hope and a romantic denouement to their story, this author does not subscribe to such illusions about the human heart.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
The journey of an immigrant landing in the United States for the first time begins long before he sees the statue of liberty and ends long after he qualifies for his first passport. The decision to leave home, leave culture and comfort, the excited transition to a brave new world, and then the acclimatization, the realization that the rest of your life will occur in this new, lonely culture.
V.S. Naipaul's short story "One out of Many", from his collection In a Free State, eloquently chronicles one man's journey to a new life in the United States. We meet Santosh, a poorly-educated servant to a diplomat, and Naipaul beautifully relates his home, his culture, and his community. However, Santosh leaves India with his master to go to Washington D.C., in search, as we all are, of opportunities and of the land of plenty. However, Santosh's journey not only destroys his painful idealism but also raises important questions about identity, both cultural and personal.
The character of Santosh, ill-educated, painfully naïve to American ways, learns much about the United States, befriending a black woman, experiencing the Washington race riots, and sadly, becoming more and more alienated from this world he thought he would embrace so perfectly. The contrast of Indian society with the American way of life leaves Santosh alienated, but also presents to the reader the dilemma of cross-culture assimilation. Should one assimilate into a different culture? Is it possible to truly accept yourself when your identity depends on a community thousands of miles away?
"One out of Many" never tries to represent an entire immigrant population, nor does it make a political statement in that explicit sense. It's simply the story of Santosh, his journey , what he finds, and does not find, in the land of riches, in America. Excellent, relevant reading.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 2, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In a Free Country is a collection of short-stories highly skilled in the novelist's craftsmanship. The book displays three striking features: the paradox of seeking freedom in a strange land; the conflict between different cultures and different ideology accordingly. It is a reverse edition of A Passage to India. As in his other novels, V. S. Naipaul offers readers sour-sweat experiences of modern wanderers and hence stirs the readers into profound thinking. But all the activity, no matter how different from reader to reader, from culture to culture, takes place under the cover of simple and uniquely ironical language the author employs. "One out of Many" is the most distinctive piece in the collection. The bitter-taste humor makes the reader laugh first and immediately feel guilty of himself. "Tell Me Who to Kill" presents a benevolent and a tyrannical Indian brother on the verge of fighting to maintain the old culture to his brother and himself in a new country while "In a Free Country" is like a longest journey across an alienate land, nothing is settled there, even the natives. This text refers to the paperback edition of this title.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on April 24, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
THis collection is one of Naipaul's darkest. While I dutifully plowed through it, I was depressed by the emptiness and psycholigical terror of just about every story. THe Novella of the title is a sad journey in Africa made by two residents of a roped-off European area, through the background of appalling civil war that eventually touches them. They are mediocrities with nowhere else to go, one the aging wife of a has-been journalist, the other a man who exploits poverty-stricken male prostitutes. THe other stories are similarly bleak. One tells of a beaten-down man who is trying to help his brother as they struggle to emigrate to England. Another recounts the misadventures of an Indian man who moves to Washington, DC and marries an American black woman by default.
It is a strange collection of stories and travel, a testament to despair and chaos. Naipaul's other books are better and have far more humor.
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