Miss Naipaul's ""Settlement"" of Indian Trinidadians is a sour landscape of mean huts, dust, mud, and sugarcane -- ""a bright burning green offensive to the eye seeking escape from its limited horizons."" It takes a tyrant, immune to any ego but his own, to cast a shadow. Like the dreadful Egbert (ne Ashok) Ramsaran, king of the Ramsaran Transportation Company, who returned with his comparative wealth to the settlement where he was born to bully: his neighbors (""They all want what you have. . . see that they don't get it""), his defeated wife Rani, and his son Wilbert whom he hammered into passive acquiescence. But even a tyrant can slip, as does Egbert after Rani's death, with the arrival of lusty Sushila -- that woman of wandering fortune -- also out to shake down the settlement. Her solemn and sensitive illegitimate daughter Siva in tow, Sushila moves in and Egbert begins his decline into senility. Revolving around and reacting to the Ramsaran fortunes is the unpleasant family of the gentle grocer Bholai, and Rani's shoddy clan -- virtuosos all of the verbal snipe and wheedling demur. The dependent ones are ground to powder; the strong are clone in by the harsh finalities of time; and Siva and Wilbert, victims with the tragic wit to project their own situations into a cosmology of hopelessness, are doomed ""to rot slowly."" The author picks her way through the furious minutiae of village scraps and scrapes with compassion and humor and her characters are not only shaped by, but shape, the echoing vacuity of caged lives. Within a regional genre -- a special care and elegance.