Billed by the publisher as Naipaul's first novel since The Enigma of Arrival in 1987, this can really be regarded as fiction only by the most extremely elastic definition. It is in fact a series of extended essays, meditations and dramatized historical reconstructions that originally carried the perhaps more fitting subtitle ``A Sequence.'' Naipaul ruminates, with all his acute intelligence, on how history shapes personality--and vice versa. The book begins and ends with unexpectedly personal autobiographical sketches of Naipaul: as a boy in Trinidad; as a bright young clerk with a scholarship and a future; as a fledgling writer struggling in London; and, finally, in a later period, in an unnamed East African country where he reencounters a character from his youth. These flank two much longer pieces, which are both poignant and superbly realized portraits of elderly figures whose once-powerful lives were wrecked, more than 200 years apart, by their efforts to exploit, economically and politically, the corner of South America where Trinidad looks across the Bay of Paria to the swampy mainland of Venezuela. Sir Walter Raleigh came twice, with dreams of gold fathered by Columbus, and is seen on his last voyage, about to return to death in the Tower. Francisco Miranda, an astonishing, courtly con man who used, and was used by, both British and Spanish governments as a would-be ``liberator'' of Latin America in the late 18th century, is seen in fragile Trinidadian exile, exchanging thoughtful, chatty letters with his wife in London. Naipaul's mastery of his material is absolute, and his seemingly effortless, beautifully wrought prose carries the reader to the heart of the mysteries of human destiny. 35,000 first printing. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/02/1994 Release date: 05/01/1994 Genre: Fiction
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