A Way in the World

A Way in the World

by V. S. Naipaul

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"Most of Us Know the parents or grandparents we come from. But we go back and back, forever: we go back all of us to the very beginning: in our blood and bone and brain we carry the memories of thousands of beings." So observes the opening narrator of A Way in the World, and it is this conundrum - that the bulk of our inheritance must remain beyond our grasp - which… See more details below


"Most of Us Know the parents or grandparents we come from. But we go back and back, forever: we go back all of us to the very beginning: in our blood and bone and brain we carry the memories of thousands of beings." So observes the opening narrator of A Way in the World, and it is this conundrum - that the bulk of our inheritance must remain beyond our grasp - which suffuses this extraordinary work of fiction, the first in seven years by one of the most acclaimed writers of our time. Returning to the autobiographical mode he so brilliantly explored in The Enigma of Arrival, and writing here in the classic form of linked narrations, Naipaul constructs a story of remarkable resonance and power, remembrance and invention. It is the story of a writer's lifelong journey towards an understanding of both the simple stuff of inheritance - language, character, family history - and the long interwoven strands of a deeply complicated historical past: "things barely remembered, things released only by the act of writing." What he writes - and what his release of memory enables us to see - is a series of extended, illuminated moments in the history of Spanish and British imperialism in the Caribbean: Raleigh's final, shameful expedition to the New World; Francisco Miranda's disastrous invasion of South America in the eighteenth century; the more subtle aggressions of the mid-twentieth-century English writer Foster Morris; the transforming and distorting peregrinations of Blair, the black Trinidadian revolutionary. Each episode is viewed through the clarifying lens of the narrator's own post-colonial experience as a Trinidadian of Indian descent who, during the twilight of the Empire, immigrates to England, reinventing himself in order to escape the very history he is intent upon telling. With Proustian reflective power, with infinite warmth and humour, and with an acute intelligence, Naipaul has created a monumental tale of identity recovered and remade from undated time an

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Books of the Century
...[A] disturbing meditation on the relationships among personal, national and world histories and on inheritance and immortality.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Billed by the publisher as Naipaul's first novel since The Enigma of Arrival in 1987, this can really be regarded as fiction only by the most extremely elastic definition. It is in fact a series of extended essays, meditations and dramatized historical reconstructions that originally carried the perhaps more fitting subtitle ``A Sequence.'' Naipaul ruminates, with all his acute intelligence, on how history shapes personality--and vice versa. The book begins and ends with unexpectedly personal autobiographical sketches of Naipaul: as a boy in Trinidad; as a bright young clerk with a scholarship and a future; as a fledgling writer struggling in London; and, finally, in a later period, in an unnamed East African country where he reencounters a character from his youth. These flank two much longer pieces, which are both poignant and superbly realized portraits of elderly figures whose once-powerful lives were wrecked, more than 200 years apart, by their efforts to exploit, economically and politically, the corner of South America where Trinidad looks across the Bay of Paria to the swampy mainland of Venezuela. Sir Walter Raleigh came twice, with dreams of gold fathered by Columbus, and is seen on his last voyage, about to return to death in the Tower. Francisco Miranda, an astonishing, courtly con man who used, and was used by, both British and Spanish governments as a would-be ``liberator'' of Latin America in the late 18th century, is seen in fragile Trinidadian exile, exchanging thoughtful, chatty letters with his wife in London. Naipaul's mastery of his material is absolute, and his seemingly effortless, beautifully wrought prose carries the reader to the heart of the mysteries of human destiny. 35,000 first printing. (May)
Library Journal
After seven years, Naipaul returns to fiction to explore the sources and implications of his feelings of rootlessness, the realities of the colonial experience, the impact of cultural displacement, and our need to belong. He does so through a series of linked historical narratives. Among them is an imagined vision of Raleigh's desperate but futile search for El Dorado. We are also introduced to Francisco de Miranda, one of the precursors to Bolivar's revolution. We are witness to the irony inherent in the life of Lebrun, a Trinidadian/Panamanian Communist of the 1930s. And then there is Blair, a former co-worker of the narrator in Trinidad, whose African roots prove no help when he becomes an adviser to an East African despot. These are tales of lost souls desperate to find a place at the table but who never quite succeed, leaving them doomed to remain on the fringes of history. A work from a fine and thoughtful storyteller that belongs in all collections of serious fiction. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/94.]-David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Donna Seaman
Naipaul has redefined the genre of historical fiction in this curiously old-fashioned, matter-of-fact, yet utterly eviscerating sequence of linked stories. These tales are told, not dramatized, a subtle narrative style that bespeaks authority and reflection. Our eloquent yet humble narrator and moral guide is an unnamed man of Indian descent who grew up on Trinidad but spent much of his adult life in England and Africa. He has several preoccupations. One is his slow and painful evolution as a writer; another is the symbiotic relationship between writing and history; and a third is the mercenary age of European exploration and conquest. Trinidad serves as a microcosm of the exploitation, volatile racial overlays, and barely controlled chaos of the so-called New World. Our narrator, who came of age just after World War II, is keenly attuned to the ugly fact that his island's history has been "burnt away." An uneasy mix of transplanted Africans, Indians, and whites circle suspiciously around each other, ripe for some sort of insurrection, a state of affairs as volatile now as it was in the early seventeenth century. Several stories profile revolutionary, but mad and delusional, figures, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, on his desperate journey back across the Atlantic in search of gold and redemption, and the crazy Venezuelan con man Francisco Miranda, who tried to invade South America and establish one immense republic. Each story ponders the betrayals and follies that have wreaked havoc in the nations of the Caribbean and Africa, acts of greed, ignorance, and hatred that are, sadly, quintessentially human. But so is the urge to tell stories, to live and to learn.
Caryl Phillips
"Whichever way the narrative takes us...characters, ideas, events (are) elegantly juggled, set down and picked up again with a technical brilliance that comes with a lifetime's experience....Brave...fascinating...A WAY in the World is a beautiful lament." -- The New Republic

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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