The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, by V. S. Naipaul (Knopf, 256 pp., $26.95)
V.S. Naipaul is a gifted writer whose diction, imagery, and insight on postcolonial societies from the Caribbean to South Asia have won his work, both novels and narrative non-fiction, great and deserved admiration. Born in Trinidad to an Indian family, Naipaul is at heart an Anglophile wielding language precisely and with a dry wit. Regular readers will chuckle at his gloomy turns of phrase — here he spies a “moraine of garbage,” there he observes “Africa drowning in the fecundity of its people.”
The Masque of Africa is a rambling travelogue taking the reader in six chapters to six different African states: Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and South Africa. Its stream-of-consciousnesss approach is similar to that of Naipaul’s previous works, as well as to that of his late brother Shiva Naipaul’s masterly African travelogue, North of South, one of the genre’s best.