A BEND IN THE RIVER - 1979
A Bend in the Rivers one of the most widely read novels in the V S Naipaul oeuvre and includes President Barack Obama amongst its many readers. The research on the book is sufficiently compendious that beginning scholars find it mandatory to begin with an extensive bibliography. It has also generated significant discussion on the topic of neo-colonialism. Christopher Wise reads the novel as part of Naipaul’s Eurocentric-utopian vision:“Naipaul paradoxically seeks the regeneration of African society through the systematic destruction or liquidation of its traditional cultures, a strategy that is a hallmark of European modernist aesthetics.” Erica Johnson meanwhile reads the novel through a postcolonial lens: “The novel’s emphasis on spatiality through its depiction of postcolonial and post-imperial nations as spaces inscribed with a common temporality works to neutralize differences between Europe and Africa, pulling them instead into a common orbit around a difficult but shared past.”
Philip Tsang in a comparative essay on The Loss of El Dorado and A Bend on the River speaks about Naipaul’s “negative cosmopolitanism” which “depends on a recognition of the impossibility of solidarity. It is not that the world cannot be shared but, rather, that one’s access to other people’s experience is conditioned by one’s historical circumstances.” Jeffrey Folks writes that the novel offers “an unremitting vision of human evil, unalleviated by humor or irony” since “Salim is suddenly transformed by his recognition of his own helplessness and that of all men in absence of the redemptive structures of order and belief.” Fawzia Mustafa compares this novel to Gurnah’s Paradise and finds that: “Gurnah s is more in keeping with the actual historical routes of the east coast slavers and ivory traders, drawing on equally rich, if not more dense, textual terrain—colonial, Islamic, Kiswahili, and local. His discursive registers are as bookish as Naipaul's but far more diverse, interlocutory, local, global, and linguistically savvy.”
This novel has often been seen as one of V S Naipaul’s most accomplished. Jimmy Wallenstein’s thesis compares Naipaul’s work with that of Conrad: “Insofar as European scholars, missionaries and Indian merchant capitalists in Africa cling to ideas of their own distinction, they deny their Africanness, and Africa's failure is theirs.” In a similar vein, Gökçen Kara writes: “Africa is depicted as a market environment for people from other parts of the world.” Indrani Ramchandran and Rohimmi Noor find the portrayal of Trinidad in The Mystic Masseur and Africa in A Bend in the River nihilistic. Weiping Li and Xiuli Zhang compare the perspectives of Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Petals of Blood and Naipaul in A Bend in the River. N. Rajkumar compares the two protagonists Mr Biswas and Salim.