Title: In a Free State
Author: V.S. Naipaul
First published January 1, 1971
247 pages, Paperback
ISBN: 9781400030552 (ISBN10: 1400030552)
V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State is a brilliant novel that explores the complexities of our post-colonial world, and the challenges of migration, displacement, and fear. The story revolves around two British people, Bobby and Linda, who are driving through an unnamed African country after a stay in the capital.
As they journey deeper into the country, they are confronted with the brutal realities of ethnic strife and political violence. Naipaul’s skilled writing paints a vivid picture of the horrors of this unnamed country, drawing parallels to Idi Amin’s Uganda.
Alongside this gripping narrative, the author presents four supporting stories of men seeking freedom and liberation in foreign lands. These stories are both heart-wrenching and hilarious, offering a nuanced and insightful look at the human experience.
With its masterful storytelling, In a Free State is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the complexities of our globalized world.
About the Author
Naipaul was raised in Trinidad, where his grandfathers had immigrated from India to work as indentured servants. He gained recognition for his early novels, which have a whimsical tone and are set in Trinidad.
He later wrote novels that depict a world transformed by the migration of people, as well as chronicles of his own life and travels, all of which are praised for his characteristic and impressive writing style.
At the age of 17, he received a scholarship from the Trinidad Government that would have allowed him to study any subject at any institution of higher learning in the British Commonwealth. However, he chose to attend Oxford and study English, as he believed it would enable him to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer.
In August 1950, he left for London after a brief stop in New York.
Fifty years later, Naipaul was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature for his ability to combine insightful storytelling with meticulous analysis, creating works that force readers to confront suppressed histories.
In a Free State, by V.S. Naipaul, is a literary gem that showcases the author’s mastery of the craft and his keen insights into the human condition. First published in 1971, this novel is a collection of five tales that explore themes of displacement, identity, and power from different perspectives.
Naipaul, born in Trinidad and Tobago, was a prolific writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. His works often examine postcolonial societies, their struggles with cultural hybridity, and the tension between tradition and modernity.
The five stories in In a Free State take place in different countries, including America, England, and Africa, and feature a range of characters, from expatriates and tourists to locals and political revolutionaries. Naipaul’s prose is evocative and precise, painting vivid pictures of landscapes, interiors, and emotions.
The first story, “One Out of Many,” follows the journey of an Indian servant, Santosh, who accompanies his employer, a wealthy American businessman, to Washington D.C. Here, Santosh experiences culture shock and begins to question his loyalty and identity. The second story, “Tell Me Who to Kill,” depicts the disillusionment of Bobby, an English expatriate in Africa, who becomes embroiled in the violent politics of the country and discovers that his idealism is no match for reality.
The third story, “An Island Seems,” explores the strained relationship between two Englishmen, Bobby and Neil, during their holiday on a Caribbean island, where they confront their differences and their shared history. The fourth story, “In a Free State,” takes place on a road trip from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, with a gay couple, Bobby and Linda, and their Indian driver, who faces discrimination and hostility from the locals.
The final story, “The Hyphenated,” portrays the dilemma of an Indian expatriate who tries to reconcile his identity as a hyphenated person, caught between two worlds but belonging to neither. Naipaul’s writing is incisive and poignant, capturing the nuances of language, culture, and psychology.
He dissects his characters with surgical precision, exposing their flaws and their humanity, their aspirations and their limitations. He also sheds light on the larger social and historical contexts that shape their destinies, from colonialism to nationalism, from racism to sexuality.
However, despite its brilliance, In a Free State is not without its weaknesses. Some readers may find the stories too fragmented or abstract, lacking a clear narrative arc or resolution.
Others may question Naipaul’s portrayal of women, minorities, or queer characters, which can be stereotypical or insensitive at times. Moreover, the book may not be suitable for all readers, as it deals with mature themes and contains some graphic scenes and language.
It may also require some background knowledge of the historical and cultural contexts it references, as Naipaul assumes a certain level of familiarity with his subjects. Overall, In a Free State is a must-read for anyone interested in literature, identity, and history.
It offers a rare combination of intellectual depth and emotional resonance, of artistic brilliance and human relevance. It challenges our assumptions and expands our horizons, reminding us of the complexity and the beauty of our shared humanity.
The Washington Post gives In a Free State a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, based on its literary merit, originality, and impact. The book is recommended for mature readers who appreciate thoughtful and thought-provoking fiction that pushes the boundaries of convention and tradition.