On the Curious Journey of V.S. Naipaul

At some point while I was reading V.S. Naipaul’s new book, The Masque of Africa, it became hard not to picture the venerable Nobel Prize winner in a pith helmet and khakis, doddering around the continent looking for bits of religious trivia he could take home and put on his mantel. This was not, of course, his stated purpose, which was, instead, to investigate the current state of “belief” in Africa, and to see how the modern world is intermingling with the older one on which it rests.

To this end, Naipaul travels to Uganda, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Gabon and South Africa, an impressive itinerary for the nearly 80-year-old. Along the way, he spends time with witch doctors, politicians, businessmen, professors and the like, all the while peppering them with questions about their rituals and religions and historical events.

Those events are something in which Naipaul is steeped: The writings of Mungo Park, John Hanning Speke, Henry Morton Stanley and others who first wrote about the continent. In a way, this is refreshing since that context is sometimes lacking in writing about Africa. But in the end, Naipaul seems perhaps too steeped in it…

Read the rest here, or see a copy of the October-November issue of The Africa Report.

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