A work more narrative than reflective, but Naipaul’s prose remains smooth, subtle, often silvery.

THE MASQUE OF AFRICA

GLIMPSES OF AFRICAN BELIEF

In this minor but engaging work, the Nobel Prize winner (Magic Seeds, 2004, etc.) examines the supernatural and religious beliefs he discovered in six African nations.

Beginning in 2008 in Uganda (where he was a visiting professor in 1966), the author was stunned by the burgeoning population. Throughout his African journeys, he observed the lingering effects of foreign religions—Christianity, Islam and others—and the almost universal adherence of most people, even the highly educated, to beliefs and traditions that thrum with the energy of the forest, magic, mischief and witchcraft. He repeatedly comments sorrowfully about the abuse of animals he saw everywhere—from traditional domestic pets to larger animals used in ritual sacrifices to big-game creatures that have no chance in the brave new world of GPS and high-powered rifles. In Uganda, he wondered if the lack of written history has given strength to the oral tradition, to legend and myth, and he visited a witchdoctor, which was surprisingly expensive. In Nigeria, he reflects on the writings of Scottish explorer Mungo Park, on the origins of “mumbo jumbo” and on the enduring cultural significance of soothsayers. He received permission to visit a breathtaking sacred grove. In Ghana, he learned about polytheism and heard how people dine on dogs and cats. In Ivory Coast, he saw a castle whose fetid moat was home to (imported) crocodiles and a surprisingly impressive cathedral. In Gabon he witnessed initiation rites, though he saw only what the participants permitted. He heard about wizards, witches and astral journeys, and he made a stop at the former home of Albert Schweitzer, now not so impressive. He ends in South Africa, where “race ran as deep as religion elsewhere.”

A work more narrative than reflective, but Naipaul’s prose remains smooth, subtle, often silvery.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-27073-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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