On of my favorite books is A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul. It is a story set in at the junction of a native and expat community in an African rain forest country with a not very despotic leader (the “Big Man”) at a time when a civil war was about to arrive on the scene. I like the book because of the writing, because of the story, because one of the character is supposedly based on someone I vaguely know (that’s always fun) and because I was there …. living at the juncture of an expat and native community in a rain forested African country with a not-to-despotic leader named Mobutu Sese Seku. And I read a few of Naipaul’s other books and liked them to.
The, I go and find out he’s a dick.
I discovered this in a letter written, openly, by Diana Abu-Jaber, who is the author of Birds of Paradise: A Novel, and four other books, which I now see that I must read. Her letter includes this prose:
Dear V.S. Naipaul:
You recently remarked, “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
I was sad to read this, to realize that you’re apparently unable to think beyond schoolyard rankings and peevish comparisons, that you’re incapable of recognizing grace and power from unexpected and unfamiliar places, such as a woman’s experience.
But what worries me more is your comment that that women write with “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world,” because, “inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.”
See what I mean? Utter dick.
The letter is here. I know you’ll want to read it. I won’t feel very good about recommending A Bend in the River in the future though I may still suggested it to some people. I’ll feel better about doing so, though, having told the author to go and get bent.