Thursday, December 30, 2010

J.G.'s Review - In A Free State

I have trouble thinking of this book as a novel, as the sections share themes but no characters. It's far easier to think of it as four short stories and a novella, and if it were up to me, the novella could go. However, as it's the title piece, that's probably not going to happen.

"In a Free State" is by far the least accessible section of this book. The necessity of a car trip by two whites through a dangerous section of Africa, where civil war is in the offing, leads to a lengthy, claustrophobic, tension-filled journey where I found myself wishing for some violent incident to relieve the tension and perhaps rescue me from the company of two thoroughly unlikeable people. The most interesting part of the journey was a stop at a hotel of faded colonial splendor, where the presiding colonel reminded me of Conrad's Colonel Kurtz. Suffice it to say when you're looking forward to meeting Colonel Kurtz's twin, your journey is not going well.

This lengthy section was the low spot of a book which otherwise contains interesting characters and spot-on depictions of various immigrant and post-colonial experiences, told by various narrators. As a whole, the effect is inconsistent, but the narration itself is quite good in places and clearly illuminates the costs of freedom in terms of alienation, homesickness, isolation from rural life, and social insecurity. Whether the narrator is an Indian in Washington, D.C., a West Indian in London, or a traveler visiting Egypt, exercising one's freedom in a foreign land is fraught with perils.

For more about this book, please see my review at Hotchpot Cafe.

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