Zaire is much in the news lately, as the fall of Kisangani to rebel forces has been generally agreed to signal the beginning of the end for Mobutu. This fine novel was set in Kisangani in the post-independence era, a town of about 400,000 that Naipaul describes in the following manner: The red dust of the streets that turned to mud in rain, the overcast sky that meant only more heat, the clear sky that meant a sun that hurt, the rain that seldom cooled and made for a general clamminess, the brown river with the lilac-colored flowers on rubbery green vines that floated on and on, night and day.
The book tells the story of an Indian who buys a small business in Kinsangani, and the life and problems he has. Zaire was then, as it is now, a nation in which intermittent periods of calm separate bouts of chaos, while the country slides slowly into oblivion. Naipaul, who has been an important influence on RPCV Paul Theroux (of Mosquito Coast fame), presents here a fascinating story of life in a nation that no one could ever honestly describe as developing.
Well worth reading! I give it **** (out of ****).