“Colonia” According to Naipaul
Since leaving his native Trinidad thirty-three years ago, V. S. Naipaul has written eight novels and seven books of social and political commentary, most of them dealing with Third World politics in a decidedly unaccommodating way. When the most recent of these, a report on Islamic fundamentalism called Among the Believers, was published two years ago, one reviewer alleged that Naipaul “underplays or perhaps misses the forms of foreign domination to which the Islamic revival is a deeply felt, if catastrophic, response.” Yet to suggest that V. S. Naipaul somehow misses the effects of foreign domination in writing about the old colonial world is like saying that he has somehow mislaid his central theme. For in all the “half-made lands” he has visited through the years, the peripatetic Naipaul has found the most damaging consequence of colonialism to be precisely a legacy of destructive resentment.
Up to a point, of course, such resentment was only natural. In colonial societies, enforced subordination and arbitrary power were usually galling, and the background of slavery in the West Indies was a good deal worse. Naipaul first turned to examine these matters in a work of nonfiction, The Middle Passage (1962); and with his next such work, The Loss of El Dorado (1969), he showed impressive powers as a historian in bringing to life both the most banal and the most pitiable details of the slaves, the traders, and the plantation economy. In doing so, however, Naipaul came to see that historical disadvantages were only a beginning in trying to understand a colonial people. They were the background against which to inquire into the damaging and perhaps crippling effect this history had had upon post-colonial attitudes, values, and behavior.
About the Author
Roger Sandall taught anthropology for many years at the University of Sydney in Australia and is the author most recently of The Culture Cult.