The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Colonial Societies

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Pan Macmillan, 2001 - Authors, Trinidadian - 243 pages
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V.S. Naipaul undertook this Caribbean journey at the invitation, in 1960, of Dr Eric Williams, the first Prime Minister of independent Trinidad, the author’s birthplace.

At that time, the plantation colonies of the region were formed, culturally, in the image of the metropolis. Racial and political assertion had yet to catch up with them in varying ways.

In Trinidad, African racialism found itself at odds with old colonial mimicry; forty years on, the racial issue will not be between black and white, but between black and Asian. Guyana was Marxist, but with the same racial divisions: forty years on, the country will be so ruined that a newspaper will be regarded almost as a luxury item.

In Surinam, a movement was afoot to replace the Dutch language with a pidgin English called talkie-talkie: forty years on, that racial sentiment will have led to military dictatorship and an exodus of the locals to Holland. Whereas Martinique, defying geography, saw itself as France.

And, in Jamaica, such rejectionism took the form of Rastafarianism – which, absurdly, turns out to have been the invention of Italian black propaganda during the Abyssinian War of the 1930s.

The Middle Passage catches this poor topsy-turvy world at a critical moment: a world by turns sad, earnest and hilarious – indeed, a perfect subject for the understanding and comedy of this great writer.

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About the author (2001)

Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V. S.) Naipaul was born on August 17, 1932. He was born of Hindu parents in Trinidad. V. S. Naipaul was educated at Oxford University and has lived in Great Britain since 1950. With an exile's sensibility, Naipaul's writing is concerned with both the West Indies of his childhood and his strong identification with India. A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), his most well-known work, solidified his reputation as a novelist. It tells the tragicomic story of the search for independence and identity of a Brahmin Indian living in Trinidad. Naipaul's work, even when he appears to be analyzing a picturesque character, is really an analysis of the entire society of Trinidad. The Middle Passage (1962) extends this analysis of the social order to other areas of the West Indies. His novel, A Bend in the River (1979) set in a new African nation, depicts the difficulties ordinary people face during times of political upheaval. A Turn in the South (1989) is a sensitive portrayal of the American South. Naipaul is regarded by many as one of the best writers of our time, and he is a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he finally won on October 11, 2001.

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