Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March discussion - A Bend in the River

It’s time to talk books with the Fairfax Library Book Discussion Group!

When? Thursday, March 5th at 7 p.m.
Where? Fairfax Library meeting room
What Book? A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

Discussion questions are below and check out these links for more background info

The Enigma of V. S. Naipaul
Colonial Desire and Disappointment in V. S. Naipaul
V.S. Naipaul, Nikolai Gogol, and the illumination of darkness
Civilization and V. S. Naipaul

Our next book selection is the One Book/One Marin selection, What is the What by Dave Eggers which we’ll discuss on Thursday, April 2nd.

A shameless plug – All month long in March, Bookbeat offers you a free tea or espresso every time you buy a book. Bookbeat is also featuring live acoustic music every morning. Stop by and ask Gary for one of his book recommendations.

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

1. "The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it."Salim says, “For people like myself…the world was really quite a simple place…the less educated we were, the more at peace we were, the more easily we were carried along by our civilization…” (p. 54) Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Is Salim describing an unexamined life? Are these philosophies complimentary or contrasting?

2. The motto of Ferdinand’s lycee was Semper Aliquid Novi – always something new. Father Huisman’s masks lived up to the motto since masks were made for specific religious purposes. Pliny, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, first said, Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre. Africa always brings [us] something new. Has the truth of Pliny’s statement been proved over the centuries?

3. Are there comparisons to be made between Salim’s experience in a newly independent African country with soldiers and tribal warfare and the experiences of Alexandra Fuller’s family as described in her memoir, Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight?

4. On p. 21, “For Europe it was one little probe. For the Arabs of central Africa it was their all; the Arabian energy that had pushed them into Africa had died down at its source… Arab power had vanished.” On p. 76, “slave peoples are physically wretches, half-men in everything except their capacity to breed the next generation” Naipaul makes some very provocative statements in his book. Do these statements advance the story? Are they distracting in their provocation? Is Naipaul racist?

5. What were the differences between the Africa of the “Domain” and the Africa of Salim’s village? Were either the real Africa?

6. A reviewer in The Nation wrote, “In the last reckoning, A Bend in the River is about homelessness.” What does he mean by this? Would you agree that the novel is essentially about homelessness?

7. Speaking about leaving his hometown and family to go to England, Indar says, "It isn't easy to turn your back on the past. It is something you have to arm yourself for, or grief will ambush and destroy you. That is why I hold onto the image of the garden trampled to the ground--it is a small thing, but it helps" (141). Does Naipaul mourn the lost past of Africa or look forward to a new and better Africa?

8. Many writers wax poetic about the purity of the simple life of natives like those of the Bush country in Africa. How does Naipaul describe the African natives such as Zabeth?

9. How does Naipaul describe “the Big Man”? Is he a good ruler of his country? Does he offer hope for a better future in Africa?

10. When Salim first meets Raymond, Raymond says, “I began to wonder…whether the truth ever gets known…Time, the discoverer of truth. I know. It’s the classical idea, the religious idea. But there are times when you begin to wonder. Do we really know the history of the Roman Empire? Do we really know what went on during the conquest of Gaul? I was sitting in my room and thinking with sadness about all the things that have gone unrecorded. Do you think we will ever get to know the truth about what has happened in Africa in the last hundred or even fifty years?” In the beginning of the novel, Salim noted that all he knew about the world was from European history books. What does this say about African history or even world history? Is it important to know the truth of history? Are some things in history better forgotten?

11. What kind of man was Raymond - educated and married to a much younger woman and working as the “Big Man’s white man” and the town cuckold?

12. The description of Salim beating Yvette is very violent and graphic. How does the fictional beating compare to the reality of Naipaul’s confession of beating the women in his life in his new biography?