V.S. Naipaul, “The Return of Eva Perón” (1981) – Naipaul covers Argentina, the Congo (Zaire at the time), and his home country of Trinidad in this series of essays published over the course of the nineteen-seventies. These places find him in fine literary form, though if I were an Argentine, especially, I wouldn’t appreciate the depiction. You don’t send Naipaul out, especially to the developing world, to paint a pretty picture. Argentina and Zaire, in Naipaul’s tellings, are lands of delusion covering over fundamental inadequacies. In Argentina, the delusion is longer-running, having gone since the early nineteenth century; in Zaire, it’s largely an invention of Mobutu, uncrowned king and dictator, and his cronies. Argentina tried to convince itself it was Europe (aided by the wholesale slaughter of its native population and denial of existence of black Argentines), Zaire pretended to be an “authentic” African state forging its own path into the future when all either were doing, according to Naipaul, were fleecing each other and degenerating. Peron, husband and wife (wives), are what Argentina deserved, and peculiarly enough the closest to a revolution it would ever get. Zaire gets more of a Conrad treatment which was less interesting than the other essays, and there’s also an essay on Conrad I skimmed because I don’t know the author well and am not wild about him in any event.
The Trinidad case is interesting because it’s about another Trinidadian who made it big in England, like Naipaul did: Michael de Freitas, aka Michael X, British/Trinidadian Black Power leader and multiple murderer, who made a brief splash in mid-60’s England by posturing as a black power leader and getting people to go along with it, though not enough to substantiate an actual movement. Michael X was a part-black, part-Portuguese Trinidadian, which translated in England as just black. Naipaul comes from the island’s Indian community. I’ve heard it suggested that this essay, larded in contempt and with a palpable sense of doom, is Naipaul’s revenge for having been a dorky Asian swot surrounded by bigger, meaner black kids who essentially inherited the country out from under the Asians when the British moved out. It’s a nasty reading but Naipaul was a nasty guy. I could also see it as contrasting the fame Michael X briefly accrued from credulous white lefties, including John Lennon, eager to believe any black man with a grudge was a true revolutionary, with Naipaul’s own process of shucking and jiving Tory-ish for his own right-wing white patrons, which of course goes unmentioned, as it always does in Naipaul (did Naipaul have any rock star fans? Ray Davies, perhaps?). Either way, it’s a squirm-inducing homecoming for the eventual Nobel laureate, as his black other half winds up on the gallows for murdering several of his followers, dismembering two with a machete. All told, quality essays, though one questions some of his more severe judgments as coming from a place of Tory swot-ishness. ****’