Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Middle Passage

Naipaul's Middle Passage begins with the description of his ship journey to his birthplace- Trinidad. This was probably the first travelogue that Naipaul wrote, and perhaps that's why the book is written in the way of a typical travel account - a journey starts and then gets to the destination. Funny incidents, people, anecdotes line it along.
The description of the ship journey is mildly tedious. There are many people on the ship who appear boring. What is interesting is the ship on which he is traveling - an immigrant ship Francisco Bobadilla (named after, I learned, a Spanish administrator who was Columbus' successor as the Governor of Indies and had been responsible for Columbus being sent back to Spain on charges of mis-management) , which carries immigrants from West Indies and takes them to UK. A few interesting moments of this journey occur when the immigrants come on-board - the reaction of the remaining passengers is that of superiority and disgust - at best of passivity and feigned disinterest. The holiday is over. Wild cows are here.
I have started enjoying the book after Naipaul's observations on the West Indian culture begin taking shape. The very first appear on the dilemma of West Indian historian:
How can the history of this West Indian futility be written? What tone shall the historian adopt? Shall he be as academic as Sir Alan Burns, protesting from time to time at some brutality, and setting West Indian brutality in the context of European brutality….Shall he, like the West Indian historians, who can only now begin to face their history, be icily detached and tell the story of the slave trade as if it were just another aspect of mercantilism? The history of the islands can never be satisfactorily told. Brutality is not the only difficulty. History is built around achievement and creation; and nothing was created in the West Indies.
I am now in the pages where Naipaul is roaming around the streets of Trinidad, trying to come to terms with returning to a place which he apparently always saw as a prison while growing up. He still resents its limits, the 'second-rate' nature of everything - from radio to cinema to journalism. More than a travelogue, it seems like the grudges of a childhood finding a lovely articulate voice, and a space to vent those grudges.
Posted at Project Dogeared - a site for sharing thoughts on books while you are going through the reading process - much different from a post-read review.

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