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Reviewed by:
  • V. S. Naipaul and the West Indies
  • Harveen Sachdeva Mann
Dolly Zulakha Hassan. V. S. Naipaul and the West Indies. New York: Lang, 1989. 376 pp. $52.95.

The second study of Naipaul by a Caribbean critic to appear in as many years, Dolly Hassan's V. S. Naipaul and the West Indies offers an ideological counterpoint to Selwyn Cudjoe's 1988 book, V. S. Naipaul: A Materialist Reading. Whereas Cudjoe, an African-Trinidadian, labels Naipaul a "crude racist," a "hysterical," "irresponsible" "apocalyptist of the Third World," Hassan, an East Indian-Guyanese expatriate, interprets Naipaul's "seeming contempt" of the West Indies (and by extension of the Third World) as the "disguised concern" of an "honest commentator [End Page 590] upon a tenuously rooted colonial society." Thus the familiar political divergence in Naipaul scholarship—between First World approbation and Third World censure of his writings—takes on a new guise, predicated upon a racial and ethnic rift between African-West Indians and East Indian-West Indians.

Having in common with Naipaul and his East Indian characters many of the social, cultural, and political experiences documented in his West Indian fiction and nonfiction, Hassan defends him from charges of racism, Eurocentrism, and contempt levied by such Black critics as Cudjoe, George Lamming, Gordon Rohlehr, and Derek Walcott. Although she declares that Naipaul is too often subjected to political rather than literary judgment by African-West Indian commentators, Hassan herself indulges in this practice, despite her claims to the contrary.

To account for Naipaul's temperamental and geographical exile from what he sees as his culturally sterile and racially split homeland, Hassan uses two introductory chapters to explicate the historical, political, and sociological problems of Trinidad. The chapters that follow examine Naipaul's West Indian books chronologically and in rather predictable fashion. Protracted plot summaries of the texts with nominal commentary by Hassan are succeeded by analyses of West Indian—and, by way of contrast, of Western—critical response in support of her thesis that Naipaul, more than most writers, is judged on ideological rather than literary grounds. An appendix considers Naipaul's Indian works (except the 1990 travel book, India: A Million Mutinies Now) to demonstrate an analogous negative reception of these writings among Indian critics.

Although Naipaul offers no solutions to the postindependence plight of the Third World, Hassan contends that his censure of these lands arises from the satirist's professed aim of effecting change by conducting what he admits is the "most brutal sort of analysis." Acknowledging that his provocative pronouncements about what he dubs "the Third World's third world" are partially responsible for antagonistic responses to Naipaul's works, Hassan nonetheless admires his fidelity to his vision, bleak and uncompromising though it sometimes is. Her related question—whether only Blacks can criticize Blacks, Indians other Indians, Muslims other Muslims—foregrounds the significance of issues of race, ethnicity, and religion not only in Naipaul criticism but also in contemporary critical theory and practice more generally.

Drawing upon hard-to-obtain materials from Caribbean and Indian newspapers and periodicals, from historians, economists, social scientists, and psychologists, V. S. Naipaul and the West Indies is thoroughly researched and meticulously documented. But as a revision of Hassan's dissertation, the book exhibits some familiar limitations: it lacks an index; it fails to address recently published critical books on Naipaul by Peggy Nightingale, John Thieme, and Cudjoe; and it neglects Naipaul's later works, The Enigma oj Arrival and A Turn in the South. Its omissions notwithstanding, Hassan's text is a valuable research tool for the Naipaul scholar. Polemical in its ideological assessments of the author, it is sure to play a key role in the continuing "Naipaul controversy." [End Page 591]

Harveen Sachdeva Mann
Loyola University of Chicago


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pp. 590-591
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