The British writer V.S. Naipaul’s previous forays into Africa were fictional: The novels “A Bend in the River” (1979) and “The novel Half a Life” (2001) were both set in nameless African countries. Now he has decided to write a travel book, ‘The Masque of Africa” about the African continent; actually about “magic.”

We already know about Naipaul’s contempt for Africans (and black people in general), so I can only imagine what’s in store for his readers.

The reviews for ‘The Masque of Africa,” , with few exceptions, have not been kind thus far. (Oddly novelist Aminatta Forna reviewing it in The Guardian, is an exception. She writes that she “has grown to like him.”) The thriller writer Robert Harris accused Naipaul of fascism in a review in Britain’s Sunday Times, called him “toxic” and compared Naipaul to Oswald Mosley (ouch).  And finally, writing in The New Statesmen (a magazine that oddly has RW Johnson writing for it occasionally) editor Jason Cowley, points to Naipaul’s ahistoricism. Here’s a sample:

So what is it, if not love, that compels him to return so often as a traveller and in search of a subject? “For my travel books I travel on a theme,” he says. “The theme of The Masque of Africa is African belief.” By “African belief” he actually means what he mostly calls “magic” and the rest of us would call animism. Naipaul seems to think that there is something intrinsically and peculiarly African about “magic” – about ancestor worship, witch doctors, totemism, pagan initiation rights and so on – but there isn’t, as any anthropologist would tell you. For Naipaul, the attempt to understand African “magic” is to be “taken far back to the beginning of things”, back to the side of the African that, he writes, “resisted rationality”. He could have saved himself a lot of air miles and no little anguish if he had stayed at home in Wiltshire and read instead, or perhaps reread, James George Frazer’s celebrated comparative study of religion and magic, The Golden Bough, which discusses the cross-cultural similarities of the world’s myths, primitive religions and rituals.

ht: Tom Devriendt

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