In this stinging, searing short novel, Naipaul (North of South, etc.) again presents his vision of Third World malaise--this time in a small, dictator-run, crumbling South American republic with a vacancy at the heart: ""A void. Darkness. Unspecified hunger. That was all they had. . . . They did not have a self, a soul, to call their own."" Cuyama is a post-colonial country of jungle and cane fields, ""perched uneasily on the sloping shoulder of South America,"" peopled by the descendants of slaves and imported laborers. Dina St. Pierre, Hindustani/Portuguese wife of gentle, idealistic Aubrey, hates the ""never-ending succession of yellow afternoons, the foaming ugliness of the silted ocean."" Like Aubrey, she is a native of Cuyama, the daughter of a Hindustani teacher who adopted an English name; Aubrey, descendant of slave owners, expiating guilt with an earnestness of ""crystalline purity and perfection,"" is the prototypical apostle of sweet reason, dedicated to the welfare of Cuyama. But Aubrey is completely impotent before the triumphant monocracy of the President, whose omnipresent likeness and militant slogans speak of ""miraculous transformation and redemption, of power untrammeled, unaccountable and mystical, of oppressors scattered like dust in the wind."" And Dina, who has drifted into marriage and motherhood, hoping to push her life a few more miles into the jungle of nothingness, is forever trapped--like all of Cuyama's destructive, disinherited people. She sees encroaching doom--while a cynical English journalist visits, while the St. Pierre heyday is recalled, while Aubrey's black protegÃ‰e Selma exudes hostility. So finally, despairing of Dina's love and recognizing his own failures, Aubrey will declare: ""the seeds of our Cuyama humanity lay unfertilized."" Naipaul's landscapes--from steamy jungle airviews (the plane shadow is a ""cruciform"") to urban rubble and glinting guns--are fiercely acute; and this novel, whether or not one sympathizes with its socio-cultural outlook, is a mood-piece of sinuous, haunting impact.