Naipul goes into great detail regarding events that transpired centuries ago. He is the telepathic fly on the wall that records the thoughts, actions, and surroundings of British buccaneers, Spanish Conquistadores, and anti-colonial revolutionaries. The brutality and inhumanity of the times, torture and the horrors of slavery being among them, are vividly depicted.
He also shows us contemporary Trinidad, his homeland, where as a result of British and Spanish colonialism, Blacks, East Indians, Whites and Creoles gingerly interact.
What interests me are the lens through which he observes social injustice and misery through the ages.
He is no Chekov with a full, aching heart encompassing so much that we are left both sad and glad to be human. Nor a Vonnegut, with a “so it goes” leitmotif that seemingly glibly accepts inhumane behavior, but actually sensitizes us to it.
Instead, Naipul acts as a bloodhound, gathering in a wealth of sensory information and making sense of it. He is adept at sniffing out hypocrisy and moral blindness, and those become his target as much as the criminal actions themselves. He is outraged, and I sense a betrayed expectation fueling that outrage. He expects leaders and followers of all races who profess enmity towards social injustice and use Marxist and anti-colonial slogans to practice what they preach.
For those who were the slavers and colonial oppressors – horror and sadness at what they perpetrated. For those who purport to hate social injustice yet perpetrate it themselves or make excuses for it – outrage and contempt. By saving some of his most telling vitriol for the hypocrites and apologists, he has earned the enmity of many within the anti-colonial left.
As for myself, I think there’s more than enough social injustice and inhumanity to go around. We need V.S. Naipul; Chekov; Vonnegut and many more to each in their own way challenge our blindness to, and complicity with, the ways it is manifested.