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While Naipaul has not given any indication that he took an interest in Solzhenitsyn’s writings, his accounts of the effects of colonialism on native peoples—in (first English publication, 1974).
Again, Naipaul resorted to an historical analogy, drawing on the Western literary tradition, especially the , with London being textually associated with Rome.
And, yet, while the destructive symbiosis described in the novel makes abundant use of classical allusions, they are multivalent and serve as sardonic or ironic commentary on the inadequacies or instability of the center’s professed ideals.
That is surely an honorable difficulty, far better than indulging in sentimental or ideological uplift; but it exacts a price.
It is worthwhile to note that the change in Naipaul’s reception occurred in the same years that Western liberals abandoned their infatuation with another truth teller, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, during his post-Soviet exile.
For instance, the writer Caryl Phillips has taken Naipaul to task for his misanthropy, his lack of compassion, and his sardonic bitter tone, for neglecting (unlike, e.g., Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe) “to give his community a past,” and for serving as a “Eurocentric foreign correspondent for the West.” Without a doubt, especially when contrasted with the early Trinidadian fiction, Naipaul’s vision had turned dark.
It is a vision with which one can find fault, as did Irving Howe in his review of A novelist has to be faithful to what he sees, and few see as well as Naipaul; yet one may wonder whether, in some final reckoning, a serious writer can simply allow the wretchedness of his depicted scene to become the limit of his vision.
Living in a no-man’s land of the soul, their relation to the West was that of “mimic men.” Thus Simon (in the 1975 essay “A New King for the Congo”), manager of a nationalized company in the former Zaire, who had “a background of the bush”: It is with people like Simon, educated, moneymaking, that the visitor feels himself in the presence of vulnerability, dumbness, danger.
Because their resentments, which appear to contradict their ambitions, and which they can never satisfactorily explain, can at any time be converted into a wish to wipe out and undo, an African nihilism, the rage of primitive men coming to themselves and finding that they have been fooled and affronted.
Rather than being a dismissal of non-Europeans, “barbarian” draws on an historical parallel to characterize the ambiguous status of the inhabitants of the former imperial possessions.
, Naipaul’s 1967 novel, was the first fictional exploration of the problematic assimilation of a former colonial society, the fictional Caribbean island of Isabella, to the institutions and ideology of the London imperial center.