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Fiction

In a Free State

in-a-free-stateThis is my first book on V.S. Naipaul. This book consists of 3 short stories, one longer than the other. The book title is taken from the last story of the book.

In the first story of One out of many, Santosh is a driver that works for an employer whose government firm posted him to Washington, USA. Santosh was brought along to the USA, astonished with the new world, spending money generously on food and drinks, his wages for 2 weeks upon his arrival, and saw group of Lord Krishna followers who presents a diluted version of his own country men. An American who paid a visit to his employer commented that he brought back a whole head of sculpture from the temple of India. And had he given a bottle of whiskey (instead of 2 dollars) to the guide he would have pulled down the whole temple for him. His employer rambled in fury, “they are malicious people, Santosh. They think that because we are a poor country we are all the same. They think an official in Government is just the same as some poor guide scraping together a few rupees to keep body and soul together, poor fellow.’” 

Santosh walked further and further away from his home and one day he decided to escape from his employer and was employed by a restaurant owner named Priya. One day a man from Bombay associated with Santosh’s previous employer hunted him down, instead of condemning him, he was rewarded for a 100 dollar. The story begin with Santosh saying : I am now an American citizen and I live in Washington, capital of the world. Many people, both her and in India, will feel that I have done well. But. 

I was so happy in Bombay. I was respected, I had a certain position. I worked for an important man……

At the end of the story, however he said:

It (the dark house in which I live) smell are strange, everything in it is strange. But my strength in this house is that I am a stranger. I have closed my mind and heart to the English Language, to newspaper and radio and TV, to pictures of hubshi (African- American) runners, and boxers and musicians on the wall. I do not want to understand or learn any more.  

I am a simple man who decides to act and see for himself and it is as though I have had several lives. I do not wish to add to these. Some afternoons I walk to the circle with the fountain. I see the dancers but they are separated from me as by glass. Once, someone scrawled Soul Brother on the pavement outside my house. I understand the words; but I feel, brother to what or to whom? I was once part of the flow, never thinking of myself as a presence. Then I looked in the mirror and decided to be free. All that my freedom has brought me is the knowledge that I have a face and a body, that I must feed this body and clothe this body for a certain number of years. Then it will be over. 

In the second story, Tell me who to Kill, is about two brothers from West Indies. B (there wasn’t a name of the first person narrative) had an uncle called Stephen, who supported B’s brother Dayo in Colombie, the ship to England to pursue his studies. B thinking magnanimously to join his brother in England, intended to support his brother Dayo. B worked and slog day and night, enough to save every penny and became an owner of a striving shop. B found out that while he was working, his brother Dayo was spending his days in the park pretending that he goes to college and smokes pack of cigarettes and spent B’s money. On the wedding day of his brother, his summed up his feelings by the following paragraph: 

I love them (Dayo and wife). They take my money, they spoil my life, they separate us. But you can’t kill them. O God, show me the enemy. once you find out who the enemy is, you can kill him. But theses people here they confuse me. Who hurt me? Who spoil my life? Tell me who to beat back. Io work four years to save my money, I work like a donkey night and day. My brother was to be the educated one, the nice one. And this is how it is ending, in this room, eating with these people. Tell me who to kill. 

vsnaipaulIn the third and longest story, In free state, set in Africa (may be Uganda or Rwanda, and its main characters, Bobby and Linda, are English. They had found liberation in Africa. But now they found Africa is going sour on them. The land is no longer safe, and at a time of tribal conflict, they have to make a long drive to safety of their compound. At the end of this drive – instinct with violence and rage. Bobby and Linda were at the Colonel’s compound, and his take on his fellow Africans:

There’s no good and bad here. They’re just Africans. They do what they have to do. That’s what you have to tell yourself. You can’t hate them. You can’t get angry with them. Really angry. – the implication of those sentences, run deep. Bobby begin the journey having faith in his fellow Africans, thinking good about people that he met in his journey, treating them kindly and paying them generously, until something happened. Something bad happened, so bad that when he is back at his compound, he contemplates sacking Luke, his male servant. 

The book is the winner of the 1971 Man Booker Prize. V.S. Naipaul is the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2001. V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published some twenty five books of fiction. For more of V.S. Naipaul, click here. 


Verdict: 4/5

What I like most about the book:
A good novel.. complex characters that question society’s iniquities.. a story which explores the mutual mistrust and cynical attitude between natives and immigrants. This is one of the most descriptive stories of displaced people around the earth that I had ever read i.e. Immigrants who left their homes and lived in a foreign country, and a native who is treated as an outsider. The feelings of the characters cut deep into my soul, aptly described what I have been feeling as both a displaced immigrant and a native who is treated like a second class citizen. It is not until the foundation of your life (birthright, sense of belonging) is altered, that you question yourself and your place in this earth. 

What I like least about the book:
V.S. Naipaul’s writing is not one of the easiest one to read. The book begin and end with Naipaul travelling in a ship, boarded with passengers of various nationalities from Piraeus to Egypt, which left me bewildered as to what message he is trying conveyed. It took two false start for me to continue reading the book. But when I looked at his words for the second time again, it made more and more sense.


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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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