©1979 V.S. Naipaul; (P)2004 Blackstone Audiobooks
"A brilliant novel." (The New York Times)
"Confirms Naipaul's position as one of the best writers now at work." (Newsweek)
This story is presumed to be set in early post-colonial Congo (formerly Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo.) Salim, through whose eyes we experience the story, is a young ethnic Indian from Eastern Africa, where he has few opportunities. He is given an opportunity to take over a small business in a town "at the bend in the river" in Central Africa, where he goes to live. There, he makes a living and forms friendships and liasons with others from the community and with outsiders, like himself, who have settled there. He earns respect as one who can be depended on. He takes in not only a younger member of his old boyhood household in the east, but also the teenage son of a trader. Through the eyes of Salim, we feel an optimism for this developing country and experience the sense of belonging and drive to survive of everyone living there: from the citizens of the region to the European ex-patriates. As the story shows the country beginning to dissolve into chaos and lawlessness, we have the feeling that we are witnessing close-up the human story behind the news reports we sometimes read about strife-torn countries. This is a well-told story, with an interesting plot, a varied cast of characters, and the fascinating backdrop of modern history in Africa. The narration of Simon Vance is superb.
First of all, I love the beautiful simplicity of this story of change and spiraling evolution in a crossroads African village on a Bend in the River (Congo?).
Here is a modern novel, way above the class of the recent wave of complex and cliche ridden historical fictions. Here is a 'tip of the iceberg' novel, where so many layers of meaning and emotions arise out of an almost childlike diary-like narrative and run very deep. I was thinking about this book for a week after I read it and, could not, did not want to start another book until this one had settled a little in my psyche - A lot like listening to a great piece of music or having a spectacular meal and then not want to here or eat anything special for a while.
I found the experience of reading/listening to be nothing less than transendental, on the order of a Kawabata or Steinbeck. This is the counterpart to the difficult modern fiction of Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf, and even Rushdie. Here, less is more and absolutely no struggling is required on the part of the reader, yet the author seems to effortlessly take you to on a journey that is compared to Hearts of Darkness, but there is nothing murky here. The waters are clear and devastating.
I knew nothing of this book until seeing it on a list of the best novels of the 20th century. Now, I must agree that A Bend in the River is a fabulous novel.
Though no specifics are named, A Bend in the River takes place almost certainly in Zaire, where the President (“the Big Man”) has put down the rebellion and restored order to the country. Business flourishes, and many rejoice in the promise of the future. Eventually, however, things take a turn for the worse. The political climate becomes more repressive, government corruption and poverty abound, and the place becomes a real mess.
The reader experiences this through the eyes of Salim, an Arab-African (more African than Arab) storeowner in the local city. Salim is a fascinating narrator – his observations can be brilliant and insightful, yet his detachment from the real world is quite striking. Salim’s ability to conceal his emotions from both the reader and himself is also of particular interest.
Readers should not expect an “action” novel – A Bend in the River falls much more along the style of E.M. Forster or Joseph Conrad – but Naipaul’s prose is superb. Feast your eyes on the opening sentence: “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”
Simon Vance's narrative voice is also great.
I now understand why this book is so highly regarded. I have never read a better personal account of the rise and fall of a dictatorial regime, fiction or otherwise. Naipaul’s work makes fantastic modern fiction.
trying to see the world with my ears
It would take volumes of nonfiction to communicate what Naipaul says in this novel about Africa's struggle to shake off colonialism and neocolonialism with their aftershocks and displacements. Although written in 1977-78, the novel also anticpates the growth of economic globalization and its displacements. There is also a sad but comic portrait of the well-meaning Western intellectual class.
The novel helps the reader to understand how events like the Rwandan Genocide could happen and see its roots in the "White Hyacinth" (one of the central symbols) that crept down river from the west. Since the narrator (wise and experienced as he is) can speak only from his limited persepctive, symbol and metaphor supply the nuances. The novel also reminds us that "Africa" is a diverse continent, not one homogenous place. The novel surpasses its setting as a reflection on the nature of human power and domination, as well as resilience.
While it isn't an action novel, as someone else pointed out, the second half IS a gripping listen and accessible. Don't expect a "pat" ending, though.
This is the first Naipaul novel I've read/listened to, but I can see why his Nobel Prize citation praised him for relating the hidden, forgotten histories in literary form.
The readers english accent was perfect and at times difficult. This book required concentration to discern the subleties of both language and culture that are so different from contemporary USA. While it hints of Out of Africa it tells the story of a sensible man in a complex world in a time when the rules of traditional culture no longer applied.
Sorry.. it's horrid. The narrator did the best he could with such slow, uninteresting information. I took a class on this book and the instructor LOVED it and was so animated about its importance in the world, blah, blah, blah. The only good thing about the whole book was in chapters 7-10... The real relationships between Salim and Yvette... the sex scenes were sublime and gorgeous -- until they weren't... at any rate, except for historians and political science students, I can't see who would find this entertaining or worth spending time or money on.
From the beginning on my reading of "A Bend of the River" I was sure there must be a connection between Joseph Conrad and VS Naipaul.
These two books are linked on many levels. Both play their action on or close to Kongo river, yet both don't name it. Both deal with human nature more then with anything else....
"A Bend in the river" is the story of Salim, a Muslim of Indian origin, who lived in unnamed city on Africa East. At some moment in time he bought a store in the midland of the continent on "a bend in the river". His story is from now on related to the political turmoil of the country (possibly Congo) caused by its dictator - the Big Man - most likely Mobutu S?s? Seko. What is the most important in the book, is the impact the dictatorship had on the people - how it changed their minds. How it attracted people, and how it betrayed the in the end.
The book shows, how troubled Africa is. How difficult it is for Africa to emerge the democracy, to disavow violence and corruption - how deep these problems are - and how they cast shadow on human souls.
The book has also a beautiful love story plot....
VS Naipaul forms a conclusion and writes his conclusion ... at the very beginning of the book:
"The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it."
I was first shocked by the and by some interpretation of the book - as totally pessimistic. It seemed to me that there was a lot of hope in the book.
I thought like this, until I read about "Second Kongo War" ... it claimed almost 6 million victims.
What is Africa today? Who can you tell me ?
Disturbing? Yes. Thought provoking? Yes. Ultimately optimistic? No.
If you want a run-of-the-mill novel, this book is not for you. If you want to listen to something interesting, gripping, unique, and beautifully written, please listen.
Simon Vance, as always, is a delight. His subtle accents, delicate changes in tone, and intelligence are on full display here. He is my favorite narrator by far.
I found this book disturbing - not what I expected at all. It felt like a much too real look at the isolation and fear that many people on the planet live with daily. I can't say it left me hopeful about our chances of equalizing the use of resources on the planet or ending bigotry and nationalism. I'm like another reviewer here - needing to just sit with this and let it settle before reading anything else.
Technically I enjoyed the reader. The writing style is more diary-like than novel. I got lost a few times with story-line jumps that didn't flow, but I would recommend as a thought-provoking read.
I enjoyed reading this book, but I'm not sure if I would read it again and it isn't placed among my favorites. It is very well written and paints a picture of Africa that puts the reader there, but it's not necessarily a gripping tale.
What I liked best about the book were the details of life that the characters went through, they give the story more life and texture.
None of the individual scenes stood out that much to me, the dramatic events seemed to happen abruptly and without fanfare.
I feel that some things in the book were a bit of a let down. For instance, Salim's romance with Yvette was promising but then abruptly ended with violence that was unjustified and unexplained to the reader. Salim was done with her, but why did he beat her? It doesn't make sense.
Simon Vance was, once again, outstanding. I would never think twice about listening to one of his narrations.
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