NORTH OF SOUTH: An African Journey by Shiva Naipaul

NORTH OF SOUTH: An African Journey

Email this review


Africa is hopeless, Shiva Naipaul concludes; blacks and whites are both ""rotten to the core."" Naipaul, the Trinidad-born novelist and brother of the better-known V.S., is of Indian descent, an ""Asian"" in the common view; and his own ambiguous identity--or lack of identity--disturbs him too. Ranging about East Africa for a few months, he meets black and white hucksters in capitalist Kenya: a clamorous shoeshine ""boy"" produces a typed and framed card, like a witch-doctor's charm, to substantiate his outrageous charges; a cynical English schoolmaster thrives by shunning blacks as teachers--his middle-class African clients ""were buying an English education."" Socialist Tanzania, in turn, yields black and white ideologues: ""Everything that [the African] is and wants to be. . . bears the imprint of the settler."" And, predictably, nothing works, nothing is as represented--from the water taps in a Five-Star Dar es Salaam hotelli, to heartless Tanzanian ujamaa (or ""familyhood""), to the vaunted quarantine of white-racist South Africa (whose goods are sold openly everywhere). ""Had I not learned,"" Naipaul expostulates at one point, ""that nothing in Africa had meaning? That nothing could be taken seriously?"" The question for the reader is whether Naipaul must be taken seriously. He is both a jaundiced observer (who starts by type-casting his fellow-passengers in a Brussels transit lounge) and an aggrieved Indian, heir to black and white affronts; and much of what he writes is distasteful as well as flagrantly unfair (the safari driver who refuses to honk his horn at two sleeping lions is almost the only character who's not a fool or a knave). And, finally, many will find his analysis--instability breeds degradation--to be overly simplistic: ""transitional states"" are not peculiar to Africa or even to the Third World. One is left at the last sorrowing for black Alberta with her Victorian trappings--""Other people must know that we don't all live in grass huts or swing from trees""--and hoping that the book as a whole, which has few such shaded moments, will be taken as Swiftian satire, not as documentation.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1979
ISBN: 0140188266
Publisher: Simon & Schuster