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A Bend in the River

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A Bend in the River

V.S. Naipaul (1979)

ISBN-10: 0330487140

ISBN-13: 9781416935865

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ONE: The Second Rebellion: Nazruddin had sold me his shop in the town in the interior at the great bend in the river for cheap. He said that the town had faced its troubles since the country had gained independence and I would have to start over at the beginning. The journey inland from the coast took a week in Nazruddin’s Peugot and when I arrived, I found the town more than half destroyed. The shop smelled of rats and was full of dung, but it was intact. I had bought the leftover stock for the shop—but it had all been pilfered. I had also bought the goodwill—but that was meaningless, because so many of the Africans had gone back to the bush, to the safety of their villages, which lay up hidden and difficult creeks. Slowly, as people began to return to the town, I found myself able to start up the business again. Much of what I sold was not essentials, not luxuries, but things that made ordinary life easier.

Although my ancestry was as a Persian from East Africa, my people and I had no recorded history of our own. Everything I knew of my Persian history came from European books. Without the Europeans, our own history would have been lost. But the Europeans also taught Africa how to lie--how to lie about ourselves and to ourselves. I knew that with African independence, the lies of the white man would be assumed by black men and this would cause trouble. Over time, the only connection African Persians maintained to our origins was the Koran and a few items of traditional dress. As we intermarried with the African populous, we even began to look like we came from the place we lived. When I was a child, my family compound housed two slave families. They had lived there for at least three generations. Although they were officially known as servants, they wanted it known that they were slaves. It wasn't that they were proud of slavery as a condition; what they were fierce about was their special connection with a family of repute.

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Duke of Humphrey's Library, Oxford, England

After some time in my new town, I heard news that an uprising on the coast had happened. The Arabs had been put out by the Africans. I had feared this would happen. For a time the few of us who knew about the uprising were able to keep it quiet because there was no local paper and only the expatriates seemed to listen to the BBC on the radio. Before long, however, foreign newspapers made their way into town and the news spread. Not much later, I received news from my family that they were scattering because their life on the coast was over. Only the oldest of them who either couldn’t or wouldn’t move would be staying in the family compound. As a result, the slaves, insistent that they would not be abandoned, were to be split among the family members. I was sent a boy who had claimed to have a special relationship with me. More likely, though, he had wanted to stay with me because he was about my age and thought it would be easiest to continue his irresponsible ways if he lived with me. There was no refusing the boy because he had already been sent. I was pleasantly surprised when he quickly settled into life in the small inland town. The local women found his exotic, mixed-race looks very handsome and he had no problem learning the local language. He even adopted as his name, Metty, the local parlance for someone of mixed-race. He quickly shed the mannerisms of a servant boy and developed a new sense of his worth. Soon be began to see me as his patron rather than his master, which didn't bother me at all.

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