A DIVISION OF THE SPOILS by Paul Scott
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A DIVISION OF THE SPOILS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fourth and final volume in Scott's majestic ""Raj Quartet"" dealing with the declining years of the ""British presence"" in India--here in 1945-47 hurriedly and expediently dissipating. For the most part the observer is Sgt. Perron, an upper-class English historian whose lightly cynical insistence on rank permits him a cover of flexibility. It is Perron who temporarily prevents the suicide of a shattered countryman who enunciates a truth, later to be fleshed out: that Britain's ""moral obligation"" to Victoria's Jewel in the Crown was in reality an obligation to property--a concept no longer viable. We meet again the Layton family, other English diplomats and military career men, and a number of Indian politicians--primarily the scrupulous Kasim. Beyond Gandhi-Nehru-Jinnah Indian nationalism, Kasim takes the long, essentially anachronistic, view that the law and its contracts must be honored. However, it is the young British-educated Indian, Kumar, and the British police officer, Merrick (Merrick's outrages against Kumar's soul and person were explored in The Day of the Scorpion [1968])who symbolize the corrupt illusions on which power feeds. In England, Kumar was a British-style monument to virtue (a brown-skinned gentleman on the cricket field); while lower middle-class Merrick was invisible. But back in India, Kumar is an alien. Merrick, hiding his racial hatreds, his homosexual tendencies and his insecurities even from himself, is also a victim of the well-born Britons who never cared about Empire and to whom ""God-the-Father-God-the-raj was a lot of insular middle- and lower-class shit."" Again Scott marks the ""nuances of time and history flowing softly."" The way he portrays the stooped shoulders of a bush-shirt hanging on a chair is as eloquent an expression of the ""grand irrelevance of history to the things people wanted for themselves"" as any political pronouncement or act of violence. The ""Raj Quartet"" is a commanding achievement.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1975
Publisher: Morrow