A WAY IN THE WORLD
This work of "fiction" from Naipaul (The Enigma of Arrival, 1993, etc.) is really a label-defying tapestry of elements, a fascinating, closely woven blend of history, character study, and autobiography. Naipaul's wonderfully vivid, lyrical descriptions of Trinidad, his homeland, reflect a mind whose every experience seems to have been carefully captured in amber. The theme that repeats throughout is the shifting nature of reality as it is refracted through the eyes and thoughts of those who shaped Trinidadian and South American colonial history -- and those who fumble for identity in its aftermath. Naipaul struggles to imagine an earlier, aboriginal Trinidad that preceded the villages and sugar-cane fields and coconut estates of his childhood, attempting to grasp a sense of history that he never felt growing up in the voided legacy of colonialism: The "idea of a background -- and what it contained: order and values and the possibility of striving: perfectibility -- made sense only when people were more truly responsible for themselves. We weren't responsible in that way. Much had been taken out of our hands. We didn't have backgrounds. We didn't have a past.... We were just there, floating." Naipaul dissects the dreams and the realities of Spanish and British imperialism, examining "impresarios of revolution" such as Venezuelan conqueror Francisco Miranda, whose New World visions included "fantasies of Incas worthy of Plato's republic, fantasies which (like Columbus's ideas about the New World, and Raleigh's) also contained a dream of a fabulous personal authority." By individualizing the colonial and postcolonial experience, Naipaul reveals its human roots: the restless search for identity, for a sense of completion, that drove conquerors and conquered alike -- that, as Naipaul tells us, drove him to become a writer.