SIR VIDIA'S SHADOW

A FRIENDSHIP ACROSS FIVE CONTINENTS

The detailed story of a long, top-heavy friendship that took a sudden nosedive, from novelist and travel writer Theroux (Kowloon Tong, 1997, etc.). They met in Africa 30 years ago: Theroux was 23, a university lecturer and aspiring writer; V.S. Naipaul (Vidia) was only 34 and already a respected writer. Theroux was ready to please: “He was stimulating and tiring to be with, like a brilliant demanding child—needy, exhausting, funny, often making a po-faced joke just to please me, and who was I?” What is clearly a teacher-student relationship deepens into an ill-balanced if mutually advantageous friendship. Theroux needed encouragement to build confidence as a writer. Naipaul needed someone to buff is ego, nurse his ills, pay the lunch bill. This Theroux did, bearing Naipaul’s dismissive manner, his mockery and imperiousness. Theroux put up with all this because he was awed by Naipaul’s talent, because “his talk was unexpected and original. He was contrary and he was often right.” And perhaps Theroux was smitten, confused; he might like to believe that “I could say what I wanted to him,” but really “you got nowhere arguing with Vidia. You needed to listen, to indulge him, not to debate every illogical point.” One day, apparently out of the blue, Naipaul writes Theroux off. Baffled and hurt, Theroux is nevertheless now a grown-up who has felt pain before. He vents a little (Naipaul had “stopped trying to please the reader. He lost his humor, he blunted his descriptive gift”), though not peevishly. It would be overmuch to say Theroux sighed with relief at the end; yet, undeniably, there is a sense of liberation. This friendship is no easy subject for portraiture—oblique, intuitive, unspoken, irrational as it often is. Theroux does his best to explicate, filling this memoir with telling incidents, blending passion with dispassion, writing with elegance. As for Naipaul: “Never give anyone a second chance.”

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1998

ISBN: 0-395-90728-4

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

more