In a Free State

V.S. Naipaul

Penguin 1973
A book review by Danny Yee © 1994
In a Free State is a sequence of five works — two short stories (the prologue and the epilogue), two forty page novellas and a one hundred and forty page short novel — linked by a common theme. All are about individuals stranded in foreign countries and confronted by alien cultures. In "One out of Many" an Indian servant is almost accidentally transported to Washington, where he finds a niche for himself but remains profoundly alienated from the world around him. "Tell Me Who to Kill" is the tragic story of a West Indian who moves to London. The novel "In a Free State" is about expatriate English civil servants in a recently independent African state torn by civil war. And the epilogue and prologue present the more detached view of an experienced traveller writing in his journal.

In a Free State is one of the best works of fiction I have read that deals with the subject of cultural incommensurability and the broken symmetry of colonial relationships. Naipaul's use of multiple stories helps him present a more balanced perspective than a straightforward novel would have allowed, the subject is one he has made his own, and his prose is up to its usual high standard. There can have been little surprise when In a Free State won the 1971 Booker Prize.

March 1994

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- more fiction
- more world literature
%T In a Free State
%A Naipaul, V.S.
%I Penguin
%D 1973
%O paperback
%G ISBN 014003711X
%P 246pp