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The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief by V.S. Naipaul

V.S. Naipaul has never captivated me as a reader. He may be a great writer and all of that; however there have been times when he just has not done it for me. I am all for travel writers and what they want to achieve by writing about a particular country and this one is no different.

It almost reminded me of “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and honestly one must get away from using that as an analogy and yet I cannot help it. The Masque of Africa struck a chord with me in some places and some places, it just didn’t manage to. The outside perspective has been handled well though in certain places.

Naipaul’s journey across the Dark Continent started from Uganda where he lived for a short while in the 60’s, then to Nigeria to Gabon via the Ivory Coast and then to Ghana, and finally to South Africa. He has met people along the way – doctors, lawyers, teachers, queens, chiefs and friends of friends. The idea of course is to get a glimpse into the African belief and he does.

The complexities and conflicts of their own culture are touched on well, though at times the pondering is far stretched. The sensitivity is commendable though. Africans negotiating their cultural worlds within the modern realm of things and how certain rules can be broken and some cannot.

V.S. Naipaul as one can see during his journeys is dry, irked by the way they behave at times and also sometimes enraged at their humour and yet somewhere down the line he knows them like no one else does.

My favourite part is how people speak so candidly about what they go through and their beliefs. About how a particular race forces their beliefs on them without giving much scope to what they follow and believe.

Naipaul has paid a lot of attention to details right from Uganda to South Africa and how people behave, what they eat, how they see the world, their perceptions and what they decide to adopt and what they wish to leave behind.

This book is a must for people who probably will never visit Africa and see it for what it is. It certainly did inspire me at some level to pay a visit to this country and realize how unseen it is.

The Masque of Africa, Naipaul, V.S, Picador India, Rs. 595