“I am hoping it is not going to cause a firestorm. It is so not my intention. I just wanted to see what made the people tick,” says VS Naipaul coyly about his new book The Masque of Africa, no doubt knowing full well that it is bound to offend many readers on the continent and beyond, including the Caribbean. The book has reportedly ignited the wrath of at least one writer – UK novelist Robert Harris, who compared passages in it about Africa to the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley’s depiction of blacks in London in the Fifties. “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,” said Harris.
According to Naipaul, the theme of The Masque of Africa is African belief. “I begin in Uganda, at the centre of the continent, do Ghana and Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Gabon, and end at the bottom of the continent, in South Africa. My theme is belief, not political or economical life; and yet at the bottom of the continent the political realities are so overwhelming that they have to be taken into account.”
In a review of the book, Geordie Greig of the London Evening Standard said: “For this book Naipaul traveled intermittently in Africa for six months with the aim of finding out what the people believed in, and the resulting picture of the continent’s spiritual identity certainly has elements that are controversial: child sacrifice, witchcraft, primitive magic and trickery. There is also an encounter with Winnie Mandela, who gives her outspoken views on the weaknesses, errors and decline of her former husband Nelson post-apartheid. Read the full review in the London Evening Standard.