A veteran novelist, VS Naipaul is stirring controversy over his recent book on Africa and its people. Since the tasteless headline of The Economist magazine in 2000 – “Africa: The Hopeless Continent”, no other bad publicity has come close to it until the international author known for his provocative and controversial writing, published his latest book: “The masque of Africa.”
VS Naipaul describes Africa as primitive and backward, a continent of people who still continue to eat animals and obsessed with magical powers to ruin lives. Travelling across Africa for six months in over four countries, Naipaul’s finding is about witchcraft, sacrifice and pet eaters. In Ivory Coast, for example, he writes: “I found out what was the best way of killing a cat or kitten. You put them in a sack of some sort and then you dropped the sack in a pot of boiling water. The thought of this everyday kitchen cruelty made everything else in Ivory Coast seem unimportant.”
The writer whose initial works have been criticised as racist and trouble-stirrer once wrote about the Caribbean culture of the seventies as “manufactured societies, labour camps”, saying Tony Blair was like a pirate who impose on the British people, a “plebeian culture”. He said of Islam in another book three decades ago, as potent global difficulty.
In his new book, South Africa, the Nobel Laureate writes, is a place he found very hard as a “place to have a point of view, and that is half the battle. I became very frightened in a way that I was never frightened before. I felt stymied in South Africa and saw here race was everything; that race ran as deep as religion everywhere. I thought that I may not be able to do this book there. To be frightened was a new experience. I do not know whether it was age or what but it went away.” According to him, South Africa is a place where respectable middle-class citizens go to witch-doctors to make “battle-medicine”.
In Gabon he further states, “There is a bad side, certainly in Gabon, they kill and the kinds of people they like to kill are children — it has to be a child or an older person, children because they are nearer to the beginning, an old person because they are near the end of life. All very sinister”.
The Trinidad-born writer of Indian descent says that in Uganda there is an ancient tale of a man who wants to buy a kitten to eat and in north Ghana “they ate and loved dog; they called it red goat. In the south they ate cats and had almost eaten them out.”
Indeed Naipaul is not new to controversy but his latest work seem more than provocative for a man of his age, said critics. A popular novelist, Robert Harris, who reviewed his book for The Sunday Times even describe his work as repulsive. Responding to a part of his description of Africa, Harris said: “I am afraid such passages remind me chiefly of Oswald Mosley, standing for election in 1959, accusing black African men of eating dog food and keeping white women locked in basements.”
But unapologetic Naipaul defends, saying: “I am nervous that people see the book as anti-Africa or use it to make some sort of political point. Truth stares you in the face. You just pick it up and write it. It has not been my intention ever to create trouble, even from my very first book.”