Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: An Area Of Darkness

Want to learn about the real India? Read "An Area Of Darkness", by V.S. Naipaul.

I have just started reading An Area Of Darkness, and I already love the book. There are few books that describe India as it is, and this is one of them. I had read V.S. Naipaul's, "A Wounded Civilization" earlier, and had loved it. This is another book that shows remarkable insight into India.

I grew up in India, and struggled with India much of my life. I have often wondered about India's vast problems (poverty, illiteracy, corruption) and tried to think of the reasons for these problems. I'm not a scholar or a philosopher, and my wonder and search has been fruitless. Many years ago, I read V. S. Naipaul's, "A Wounded Civilization" and was struck by the depth of understanding. Not only did see many of the same problems I encountered but he diagnosed the root cause. When I read that book, I was struck by how accurate he was about the problems. And I was a little disappointed. Many problems he mentioned were still around, decades later. I wasn't very hopeful about the future.

"An Area Of Darkness" is similar. It is pessimistic, in the same way that the diagnosis of high cholesterol is pessimistic. V. S. Naipaul writes about the world that he sees. He is originally from Trinidad, so he notices a lot of strange behavior in India. He is a curious outsider: ethnically an Indian, but removed from Indian influence long enough that the quirks stand out. The book is bitter-sweet. It is heartening that someone has been able to locate the root cause for some of our misery. Yet, it is appalling that we haven't done much about it.

The book was published in 1964.

While I can't say that Indian society has stayed still for over four decades, there is too little progress. Too little to matter anyway.

It is difficult to recommend this book. I am sure many people will taken offense at the honesty. I am sure many people see things differently. In my experience, nothing talks about India in a more clear and insightful way than this book.

Only a correct diagnosis can produce a successful remedy.

Image courtesy Wikipedia.