Since none of what he sees around has any connection to his experiences, Naipaul feels page after page with gratutitous stories of a lonely, starving kittens and of how much (almost to the cent) he had to pay for every encounter with every person. Whenever the author tries to talk about daily life in Africa, he only manages to produce a string of trivialities. To give just one example:
Uganda was Uganda. Education and school uniforms, giving an illusion of possibility, was easy; much harder was the creation of a proper economy.It seems like even his signature style that has captivated readers all over the world has deserted Naipaul here. Of course, whenever he abandons the fruitless attempts to discuss things that are of no great interest to him and returns to his favorite subject of himself, Naipaul is back to his beautiful and incisive writing. For example, the passage where he describes his arrival at the airport in Lagos is truly delightful. Then, however, he goes back to a plodding retelling of what people he finds eminently boring (which is pretty much every single person on the planet aside from himself) told him about African belief systems.
From time to time, Naipaul's sly sense of humor breaks through the tedium of his narrative and he regales us with playful little stories about his African experiences. In Nigeria, Naipaul visits a babalawo and asks him to answer a question that supposedly bothers him a lot: "Will my daughter get married?" After showing his surprise that such questions perturbed men from far away lands, the babalawo proceeds to offer his answer:
The babalawo said, “The girl is not going to get married. You have many enemies. To break their spells we will have to do many rituals. They will cost money, but the girl will get married.” Everyone in the room was quite excited. Adesina, his brother, the guide: the babalawo had them all in the palm of his hand. I said, “But what he’s told me is good. I don’t want the girl to get married.” The babalawo looked appalled.
I know that if I were in Naipaul's place I wouldn't be able to resist a similar piece of feminist playfulness. I just wish the writer showed us this side of himself a lot more in this book instead of being ponderous and grave most of the time.