BOOK REVIEW: The Middle Passage – by V.S. Naipaul

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Title: The Middle Passage
Author: V.S. Naipaul
Genre: Travel, Non Fiction, Memoir
First published: 1962
Finished reading: July 31st 2014
Pages: 256
Rating 3

“I had seen how deep in nearly every West Indian, high and low, were the prejudices of race; how often these prejudices were rooted in self-contempt; and how much important action they prompted. Everyone spoke of nation and nationalism but no one was willing to surrender the priviledges or even the separateness of his group.”

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A friend of mine lend me a copy of The Middle Passage, and I’m glad I took the time to finish this travel memoir by V.S. Naipaul before I returned it to her. The Middle Passage was not my typical choice of reading and I have to admit I don’t know that much about Trinidad and the four Carribean societies mentioned (except for maybe Surinam because of its connection with Holland). What the countries have in common are the traces of slavery and colonialism, and that is what Naipaul focuses on in his book: the racial differences and the connections the former colonies have with their occupiers.

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It’s hard to give a proper summary of all the different countries without this review becoming a short novel itself, so I have decided to keep this short. In The Middle Passage, Naipaul takes you on a journey through five societies and former British, French and Dutch colonies. He tells us his experiences during his journey, and analyzes the situation in the different countries (Trinidad, British Guiana, Surinam, Martinique and Jamaica). Not every society has reacted to its occupiers in the same way, and while some reject the foreign cultures, others openly embrace it. There is also an enormous difference in racial acceptance between the different countries… With huge social consequences.

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The way Naipaul wrote down his story didn’t convince me fully, and I had to make myself continue at certain points where the story just became too slow to keep my attention. But I cannot deny it is an interesting story Naipaul is trying to tell. The fact that he was born and raised in Trinidad and later moved to London has a lot to do with that. Having lived in both ‘worlds’, he is able to blend in with the locals as well as having access to the insights of outsiders. I cannot judge properly if the comments he makes in The Middle Passage about the different societies, race problematics and inequality are accurate. What does become clear is that the book narrates his experiences when travelling through those countries; the difficulties on the way and the people he meets a sample of what the situation was like back then. Recommended to those who want to know more about the societies mentioned and enjoy reading non fiction travel memoirs.

9 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: The Middle Passage – by V.S. Naipaul

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  5. This isn’t my typical reading material either. It sounds interesting though, the way countries reacted so differently. The only country I know anything about is Jamaica and that’s pretty much what’s in the movies.

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    • It’s definitely interesting, although I couldn’t warm up to his writing style… It was just not captivating enough to stay focused on the story at some points. The facts I know about Jamaica are mostly based on a few ‘war on drugs’ seminaries I had at Uni, so I don’t think they form a good base to draw any conclusions about the country. 😉

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  6. I dedicate my degree dissertation to Naipaul il 2005. I didn’t know him but I couldn’t find a professor for my subject so my postcolonial literature professor assigned me Naipaul’s “The Mimic Men”. The first time I opened the book I found myself deeply disturbed. It was clear he wanted to speak about something disturbing, a particular and unfair form of suffering. Nine month later I graduated after reading “The Mimic Men”, “A House for mr. Biswas” and a number of essays. I have come to understand that Naipaul is a great writer but he generally is unfair, disturbing, and politically incorrect. Above all, I appreciate his great writing skills which clearly emerge in “The Mimic Men”. I haven’t read,”The middle passage” yet.

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    • Wow, what a coincidence! The Middle Passage definitely left me wanting to explore more of his work, especially when I found out he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. His books definitely cannot be classified under the typical travel genre, but the stories he wants to tell are intruiging (although I don’t think his opinions are to be considered neutral).

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