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'The Masque of Africa' by V.S. Naipaul, reviewed by the NYT

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  • bobutne
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/books/review/Griswold-t.html?_r=1&ref=books A good deal of the content concerns Gabon. Excerpts below from New York Times
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 7, 2010
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/books/review/Griswold-t.html?_r=1&ref=books

      A good deal of the content concerns Gabon. Excerpts below from New York Times article:

      In "The Masque of Africa," one of the most memorable voices is that of Guy Rossatanga-Rignault, a former university dean in Gabon. When we meet him, more than halfway through the book, he relates Naipaul's central idea: "The new religions, Islam and Christianity, are just on the top. Inside us is the forest."

      Another indelible voice belongs to Claudine, a Gabonese woman with an affinity for Pygmies. Through Claudine, this unfamiliar, gentled Naipaul falls in love with the "small people," who "were the first inhabitants of the forests, and they became its masters." Claudine tells us, "The closer we come to the Pygmies the more we understand that the world has a soul and has a life."

      The book's most engaging moment occurs at the journey's — and the forest's — epicenter. In Gabon, Naipaul meets Mobiet, a 37-year-old white American and former Peace Corps volunteer (not unlike Naipaul's former friend Paul Theroux) who had come to Gabon 11 years earlier "on some kind of spiritual quest." Disillusioned with the Peace Corps, Mobiet stays on to learn local agriculture and to marry. When Mobiet tells Naipaul that he is an initiate in forest rites of the Fang people, Naipaul is not critical. He is intrigued.

      "It makes me listen to my inner voice," Mobiet tells him. "It confirms the existence of God, and it makes me move in tune with my dreams. And you meditate." This is the kind of statement, and Mobiet the sort of figure, that a younger Naipaul would have ripped to intellectual shreds, but not now. Soon, Mobiet takes Naipaul on a forest quest to see some holy bones. It's proves to be a long trip. Along the way, Naipaul's legs tire. "After a while my nervy, frail legs began to give out; and they gave out completely when I saw some barrels, taller than the tall grass, barring the way in the distance."

      There is a solution: a wheelbarrow in which the writer can be carried through the dense jungle, a primeval African litter. "A barrow miraculously appeared," Naipaul writes, "but it was an African job, heavily rusted, and not sturdy, sagging below my weight when, leaning back far too much, I tried unsuccessfully to sit in it." For Naipaul to admit his physical limits, let alone revel in them, is a new kind of humor — one that, being softer, is even sharper. This episode transcends the shadowy wryness to which his readers have long been accustomed.

      It is impossible not to hear intimations of Naipaul's own mortality when another initiate into Fang rites, one Mme. Ondo, tells him, "Here when an old person dies we say a library has burnt down."
    • bobutne
      Anyone here know former Peace Corps Volunteer Mobiet? (see story below). Apparently from Naipaul s accountt, Mobiet is based in the Lope National Reserve area
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 15, 2010
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        Anyone here know former Peace Corps Volunteer Mobiet? (see story below). Apparently from Naipaul's accountt, Mobiet is based in the Lope National Reserve area of Gabon. I didn't run into him at Lope in 2002 when I visited the area but did meet a Peace Corps Volunteer whom was teaching English to a few Lope Hotel staff.



        --- In gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.com, "bobutne" <bobutne@...> wrote:
        >
        > http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/books/review/Griswold-t.html?_r=1&ref=books
        >
        > A good deal of the content concerns Gabon. Excerpts below from New York Times article:
        >
        > In "The Masque of Africa," one of the most memorable voices is that of Guy Rossatanga-Rignault, a former university dean in Gabon. When we meet him, more than halfway through the book, he relates Naipaul's central idea: "The new religions, Islam and Christianity, are just on the top. Inside us is the forest."
        >
        > Another indelible voice belongs to Claudine, a Gabonese woman with an affinity for Pygmies. Through Claudine, this unfamiliar, gentled Naipaul falls in love with the "small people," who "were the first inhabitants of the forests, and they became its masters." Claudine tells us, "The closer we come to the Pygmies the more we understand that the world has a soul and has a life."
        >
        > The book's most engaging moment occurs at the journey's — and the forest's — epicenter. In Gabon, Naipaul meets Mobiet, a 37-year-old white American and former Peace Corps volunteer (not unlike Naipaul's former friend Paul Theroux) who had come to Gabon 11 years earlier "on some kind of spiritual quest." Disillusioned with the Peace Corps, Mobiet stays on to learn local agriculture and to marry. When Mobiet tells Naipaul that he is an initiate in forest rites of the Fang people, Naipaul is not critical. He is intrigued.
        >
        > "It makes me listen to my inner voice," Mobiet tells him. "It confirms the existence of God, and it makes me move in tune with my dreams. And you meditate." This is the kind of statement, and Mobiet the sort of figure, that a younger Naipaul would have ripped to intellectual shreds, but not now. Soon, Mobiet takes Naipaul on a forest quest to see some holy bones. It's proves to be a long trip. Along the way, Naipaul's legs tire. "After a while my nervy, frail legs began to give out; and they gave out completely when I saw some barrels, taller than the tall grass, barring the way in the distance."
        >
        > There is a solution: a wheelbarrow in which the writer can be carried through the dense jungle, a primeval African litter. "A barrow miraculously appeared," Naipaul writes, "but it was an African job, heavily rusted, and not sturdy, sagging below my weight when, leaning back far too much, I tried unsuccessfully to sit in it." For Naipaul to admit his physical limits, let alone revel in them, is a new kind of humor — one that, being softer, is even sharper. This episode transcends the shadowy wryness to which his readers have long been accustomed.
        >
        > It is impossible not to hear intimations of Naipaul's own mortality when another initiate into Fang rites, one Mme. Ondo, tells him, "Here when an old person dies we say a library has burnt down."
        >
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