Naipaul on the prowl: three stinging pieces on the "unreal world of imitation"--in Trinidad, Argentina, and the Congo--and a capstone essay on Conrad. Originally published mainly between 1972 and 1975 (three in the New York Review of Books, one in the London Sunday Times), they include working notes, as it were, for the novels Guerrillas (1975) and A Bend in the River (1979). But their interest, individually and as a group, extends beyond Naipaul-watchers. "Michael X and the Black Power Killings in Trinidad," which leads off, is of cource the genesis of Guerrillas; but in this account of the making and unmaking of a would-be revolutionary--mesmerized by English cant and American black-power jargon--Naipaul delivers a body-blow to racial politics: the stupidity and the futility, yes (especially in black-majority Trinidad), but also the horror and the pity. "The Return of Eva Peron," multipartite, is more ruminative. Argentina is collapsing; guerrilla torture (1972) and official torture (1977) are glibly defended. Words, again: imprecations against colonialism, capitalism, police "pigs" in the first instance, invocations of the people's will in the second. "The social-intellectual diversions of the north are transformed"--in this sterile, second-hand society--"into horrible reality." "A New King for the Congo: Mobutu and the Nihilism of Africa" makes its point in the title: where the recent past is wiped out and the present is quicksand, a sham Africanism serves as an anchor. Here we find the beginnings of A Bend in the River--as well as the start of Naipaul's rediscovery ("or discovery") of Conrad as a progenitor, subject of the last brief, rangy essay. One may also discover in Naipaul himself less bitterness than appeared on first, early '70s reading, and more torment. A strong presence, a powerful collection.