Whether he sets his tales in Africa, England, his native Trinidad or anywhere else, V. S. Naipaul is always writing about V. S. Naipaul. In this respect, “The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief,” his 30th book and 16th volume of nonfiction, is not different. This latest journey to the continent is part of a larger whole, the developing narrative of a single consciousness.
But Masque of Africa marks a startling evolution of that consciousness. In Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Gabon and, finally, South Africa, a newly curious Naipaul is leading an adventure among the faithful. Still writing with the same spare, acerbic lyricism that earned him the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature, Naipaul is willing to express a new attitude, one of self-doubt. This acknowledgment of human frailty — starting with his own — broadens his observational powers immeasurably. As he sets out to explore what he calls “the beginning of things,” he proves willing to turn his brutally accurate lens back on himself.
This is a book about mysteries. Naipaul neither attempts to solve many of them, nor does he explain them away via the penetrating and self-assured assumptions his readers have come to recognize. “Among the Believers” (1981) and “Beyond Belief” (1998) made short work of Islam. Now, in the Islamic town of Kano, Nigeria, he watches Muslim children, “innumerable, thin-limbed, in dusty little gowns, the unfailing product of multiple marriages and many concubines.” Christianity is not spared his severe gaze either. In a decadent Ivory Coast cathedral, he spies a copy of Bernini’s baldachin from St. Peter’s, and sees in it a symbol of the abusive waste that has ruined the country: outside, “hidden from the cathedral and its gardens,” are mounds of uncollected garbage, “Africa reclaiming its own.”
The full review at NYT.
And for an English view, this review from The Guardian.