Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Mimic Men by V.S Naipaul- A book review

My first read for the BOOK READING CHALLENGE 2011 is THE MIMIC MEN by V.S NAIPAUL. 

Synopsis: A profound novel of cultural displacement, The Mimic Men masterfully evokes a colonial man's experience in a postcolonial world.
Born of Indian heritage and raised on a British-dependent Caribbean island, Ralph Singh has retired to suburban London, writing his memoirs as a means to impose order on a chaotic existence. His memories lead him to recognize the paradox of his childhood during which he secretly fantasized about a heroic India, yet changed his name from Ranjit Kripalsingh. As he assesses his short-lived marriage to an ostentatious white woman, Singh realizes what has kept him from becoming a proper Englishman. But it is the return home and his subsequent immersion in the roiling political atmosphere of a newly self-governed nation that ultimately provide Singh with the necessary insight to discover the crux of his disillusionment.

In an interview with Shankar Israel, Naipaul had this to say:
The people I saw were little people who were mimicking upper-class respectability. They had been slaves, and you can't write about that in the way that Tolstoy wrote about, even his backward society – for his society was whole and the one I knew was not. – Veena Singh, 'A Journey of Rejection: V S Naipaul's The Mimic Men' in ed, Mohit K Ray, V S Naipaul: Critical Essays, p156

Naipaul plays with words and the first thing that capture my attention is his mastery over it. And I thought with the size of the book i am choosing this would be a piece of cake. But it isn't and to get through it you need time on your hands (yes, the real one). And with sentences packed so tightly together, I almost delayed picking it up. But, determination to go ahead with a book with made me think so much- I started with THE MIMIC MEN. 

'Mimic' 1. To copy or imitate closely, especially in speech, expression, and gesture; ape* where it portrays a man who has been abandoned by his own people because Ralph Singh was actually a man who was never among them. The feeling of displacement is apparent in the first few pages

"I knew nothing until i heard of his (Mr Shylock) cremation from Lieni..."

He is careful not to relate himself emotionally to any event and narrates it with a sort of detachment almost as if a commentator. 

I could never actually make sense of this book. Yes, it is about a man who has lived and ruled the colony. I call him the 'Man of the merciless intent' and the protagonist realizes that he was once a part of the oppressionism. 

"Hate the oppression; fear the oppressed", are his words where he fears the life he is forced to live now. 

Very difficult for me not to relate the book to the time when we were ruled by the British. Not very long ago and the stories still humming in my mind with the movies like Lagaan, The Passage to India and Gandhi making an impression on me. This is a book for every Indian who wants to see through the glasses of an oppressor. And their lives after that. 

When I relate the book to Naipaul's private life, I get a feeling is apathy.  And for some reason I do not pre-judge. The book cover is a mirror to the words inside. It has a matte silhouette of man walking his way at the London streets with an English woman giving him a passing look. Almost like the look when we see a white (or am I being a racist here by quoting?) wearing a dhoti or a Saree. A look of amusement and why the need to be among us?"

Rating: 4.5/5

1 comment:

  1. When I look back at the reviews I’ve done that have attracted the most readers I am always surprised to find this books up there; it’s actually my 7th most popular post ever with 1633 readers spending an average of nearly 5 minutes each on the article. One really has to wonder why such an old book is of so much interest to people; it’s certainly not his best book.


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