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A Bend in the River Paperback – International Edition, March 13, 1989

4.2 out of 5 stars 138 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"For sheer abundance of talent, there ca hardly be a writer alive who surpasses V.S. Naipaul." —The New York Times Book Review

"Confirms Naipaul's position as one of the best writers now at work." —Walter Clemons, Newsweek

"The sweep of Naipaul's imagination, the brilliant fictional frame that expresses it, are in my view without equal today." —Elizabeth Hardwick

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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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (March 13, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679722025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722021
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Naipaul's "A Bend in the River" is almost as much reportage as fiction. The novel is set in the city of Kisangani, on the Congo River in Congo (formerly the Zaire river in Zaire) -- though interestingly, the author never says this explicitly. I have never seen an account as to what Naipaul's experiences in Zaire were exactly, but he manages to tell the story of the early days of Zaire's independence, after colonial rule as the Belgian Congo.
The protagonist is a young Indian from the Eastern coast. ("Indian" in the sense of his ethnicity, his family has been in Africa longer than they can remember.) He has purchased a shop in Kisangani, and trys to build up his business as the "big man" consolidates power in the newly independent country. Things go from bad to worse, for the new shopkeeper and the country. Though this is fiction, every word is true.
Naipaul writes beautifully, and has many insights into Africa, colonialism, history, and life. This is one of the few books that I have read and enjoyed more than once.
Some people recommend Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" to readers looking for an "African" novel. But to recommend "Things Fall Apart" over "A Bend in the River" makes sense only if you can read just a single book about Africa. Achebe's novel is set in Nigeria; Naipaul's is about Zaire. It's like saying don't bother with "Brothers Karamozov", read "Great Expectations" instead. I should hope a serious reader would turn his attention to both.
(The last days of the Belgian Congo is the setting for Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible". Many good nonfiction stories from this time and place are found in "A Doctor's Life: Unique Stories" by William T. Close. A literary approach to the early days of the Belgian Congo is Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness".)
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Format: Paperback
Naipaul in one of his typically politically-incorrect interviews said these very words about the continent. A BEND IN THE RIVER is therefore a gloomy book and offers a pessimistic view of Africa. If Conrad had not already taken the title, then this book could easily have been called HEART OF DARKNESS. That's not a coincidence either as Naipaul is frequently compared to Conrad in terms of literary style and theme. The setting is the same also. Although A BEND.. takes place in a fictitious African country it can be read as either Congo or Uganda as it is based on his visits to those countries in the 1960's.
The principal character and narrator of the story is Salim, an Indian and Muslim. Indian merchant families like his have been living in the coastal area of the country for generations. The blacks live inland. Salim decides to move to a small, formerly-quaint colonial town in the interior to set up shop and sell cloth. He is immediately at a loss, in conflict, confused - a man in search of an identity in a country in search of itself. Salim must contend with the rapidly changing social, economic and political environment of the newly independent country while at the same time sort out his own world view in the face of the contending opinions of the other characters. There is the influence of the Big Man - and simply because he is president for life - his interests must be served. There are others: a Belgian priest; Raymond, the white speech writer for the Big Man; Yvette, Raymond's wife; Mahesh, a disillusioned Indian, and finally, the most unlikey important character - Ferdinand. He is a simple boy from the "bush", who, in this upside-down country, becomes Governor of the town after the nation is "radicalized" by the Big Man.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of those novels that can haunt the imagination for the rest of the reader's life. It is a true masterpiece of exploratory fiction, from the opening paragraph, "The world is what it is," to the closing images of moths "white in white light." Its world is brutal and alien, yet brings out the humanity, vanities, and hopes that all of us share. As a window into the mind of underdeveloped countries, it is unsurpassed. It is so superior to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, to which it is so frequently compared, that critics should not even mention them together.
The writing is plain, yet elegant, a quiet symphony as it portrays a journey of violence and despair and growth. Once I finished it, I read it again from cover to cover in a single sitting, transported into these alien lives that only occur in few novels I have ever read. As such, it can serve as the starting point of a lifelong inner conversation, the true mark of a classic.
This novel was written at the high point in Naipal's career. He was just becoming world famous and this one cemented his reputation. It is a pity that his subsequent works never quite matched the sweep and depth of voice in this novel. Now he is criticized, perhaps rightly, for his sexism, his pessimism, and his petty prejudices.
But this novel is one of the best I ever read.
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Format: Paperback
This story has all the hallmarks of great fiction: moving, thoughtful prose; exotic setting (a post-colonial African country); fascinating storyline; tragic characters; grand themes. This was the first Naipaul story I have read, and now I know what all the fuss is about.

I found the writing very full, every sentence very active, moving the story forward in a staggeringly complete way. Salim is an Arab-African of Indian descent. He moves from the east coast of Africa to a town situated on a "bend in the river" in a central African country, presumably the former Belgian Congo, ostensibly to run a rudimentary general store, but more likely to delay finding what his real objectives in life are. He wants to experience the so-called "European" colonial culture of the town, and gets involved in the Hellenic Club, pursues an affair with the wife of a prominent political figure, and mentors his family servant Metty, and a young African, Ferdinand. In both these latter characters we see the symbolism of the "new" Africa, and the struggles in asserting identity, manhood, authority and organization. We get a glimpse into the sham intellectualism surrounding the educated elite, a world that Salim is drawn into but ultimately rejects. We see a man go from a kind of hope to a lazy idealism, then inertia, failing to change his life or make key decisions while the world around him is changing. The struggles of the country under its new leadership and the resistance from within all occur in the backdrop until they take center stage; this same pattern describes Salim in his approach to it all. He does not confront the emerging chaos until it is almost too late.

We see the country and atmosphere change dramatically: "This piece of earth - how many changes had come to it!
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