JOURNEY TO NOWHERE: A New World Tragedy by Shiva Naipaul


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The tragedy is the Jonestown holocaust, where the victims, according to this bitter, incisive account, were destroyed by a weird sort of collusion between the worst that the First World (California) and the Third World (Guyana) had to offer. Giving vent to his anger and despair, Naipaul invokes a plague on both the houses of Jim Jones--America's racism, its foggy-minded, self-indulgent love of radical causes, its intoxication with technology, its refusal to admit guilt--and of Forbes Burnham: Guyana's black racism, its bloated Leninist rhetoric, its police-state paranoia, its squalid ineptitude. Ranging around the Bay Area, Naipaul does a devastating number on the various starry-eyed heralds of the Age of Aquarius, the people pushing ""wholistic"" health, militant lesbianism, est, Kerista Consciousness, etc. On the one hand the sun-drenched spiritual supermarket of California, with its ""eclectic riot of privileged consumerism"" and its ""unassimilable lumpen hordes"" of downtrodden blacks; on the other the steaming, soggy rot of George-town and the putrefying ruins of Jonestown, which ironically proved even less hospitable to the American refugees. In some ways Naipaul's unforgiving pen draws caricatures rather than portraits (eco-freaks in Berkeley, venal creeps behind every government desk in Georgetown), but its measured distortions clarify the Peoples Temple disaster by stressing the moral failures of Jones' key collaborators, both white and black. If Naipaul's vision has a flaw, it's that he sees cant and culpable stupidity practically everywhere (as also in North of South, his savaging of Africa). He's a hanging judge--which makes for good drama but sometimes questionable justice.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster