V. S. Naipaul looks at Africa through its indigenous religions
The Masque of Africa:
Glimpses of African Belief
by V.S. Naipaul
$26.95 List Price
A writer knows he is working well when people start to hate him. V. S. Naipaul has always warmed to this aspect of the enterprise. For more than fifty years, he has, with enviable regularity and evident delight, brought his readers the bad news from four continents. His prophecies never fail to outrage, all the more when they are right: In the 1960s, he pronounced the failure of Black Power politics in the Caribbean before it left the cradle; in the 1980s, he followed the logic of Muslim fundamentalism to its grim conclusions while Mohamed Atta was still in shorts. But perhaps no prediction has been more widely reviled—and passionately rebutted—than a single off-the-cuff comment Naipaul made after the publication of A Bend in the River in 1979. Asked about the future of Africa, he said it didn't have one.
How strange, then, that Naipaul's new book should be a searching inquiry into Africa's past with an eye to its future. The Masque of Africa retraces Naipaul's steps from forty years before, when he first went to Africa to write about the dictators slashing up the continent. Now he returns to examine wounds deeper beneath the surface: the remnants of earth religions that have survived the conquests of Christianity and Islam. With extraordinary sensitivity, Naipaul registers the beauty of these traditions but also captures their cruelty. The Masque of Africa is full of sacred groves and magic herbs—but also boiled cats and severed horse heads. For all his claims to hold no views, Naipaul has barely concealed his agenda behind these portraits of belief. The spiritual