Picks and Pans Review: A Bend in the River

updated 07/09/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/09/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by V.S. Naipaul

Few writers tell a better story; fewer still are so sensitive to the tortured attempts of Third World countries to reconcile their colonial past, confused present and uncertain future. Born in Trinidad of Asian Indian descent, Naipaul has profited profoundly from a life of extensive travel. His most recent books, both nonfiction (India: A Wounded Civilization) and fiction (Guerrillas), have been brilliant. This novel, about an Indian merchant caught in a haphazard social revolution in an African nation (it resembles Uganda and Zaire, among other countries), is even better. The Africans try to show how European they are; the remaining Europeans show how much they like Africa. Asians are caught in the middle. This is the book John Updike seemed to try to write in The Coup, but Naipaul is at once more moving and more insightful. He realizes the colonial experience may be farcical, but it is never funny. (Knopf, $8.95)

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