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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Review: An Area of Darkness

An Area of Darkness

By V. S. Naipaul.  Vintage, Random House, first published 1964, 291 pp. (Kindle Edition)

 

Although V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad, his family originally came from India, and in the early '60s, the author made his first journey to the subcontinent.  An Area of Darkness chronicles this year of travel, which took him to Bombay, Delhi, Kashmir, and eventually to the small village that his grandfather left as an indentured laborer more than 60 years before.

 

As Naipaul travels, the finely wrought sentences and observations about caste and the Raj can give his account an aura of reason and even detachment.  But this is deceptive.  The level of hostility toward almost everything observed, the ugly disparagement of the country and its inhabitants, the simmering anger always ready to burst forth—all make it clear that for Naipaul this is a deeply emotional journey.

 

Naipaul is understandably appalled by the poverty, the dirt, the subservience that he observes.  "The beggars, the gutters, the starved bodies, the weeping swollen-bellied child black with flies in the filth and cowdung and human excrement of a bazaar lane, the dogs, ribby, mangy, cowed and cowardly, reserving their anger, like the human beings around them, for others of their kind."

 

All around he sees a "static, decayed society" that keeps people down.  He writes astutely about the negative impact of the Raj and of the caste system, which, he says, reduces people to functionality.  People defecate openly because there will be sweepers whose function it is to clean up after them.  There is no bravery, he writes, not because of cowardice but because "bravery, the willingness to risk one's life, is the function of the soldier and no one else."

 

But the negative is almost all that he sees, and he expresses his revulsion in contemptuous language.   Read More 

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