Picks and Pans Review: Love and Death in a Hot Country

updated 05/21/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/21/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Shiva Naipaul

The fictional country, on the coast of South America, is called Cuyama. This is a nation with a violent history: "Small bands of wandering aborigines, worshipping fierce gods, living on roots and berries and small wild animals, periodically hunting each other's heads; the miseries of the second-rate conquistadors who had come looking for gold and finding none had gone mad with disappointment and blood lust; the miseries of the slaves and their terrible revolts; the miseries of a fabricated statehood." The protagonist, daughter of a schoolteacher, marries the English-educated heir to one of Cuyama's former slaveholding families. She is an indifferent wife and mother, haunted by dreams of her own death. Her husband has a bookstore that may bankrupt him, but he is good-hearted and deeply ashamed of his family's past. When the couple is visited by the husband's old school chum, a British journalist, the woman suddenly sees that she is "nothing but a mongrelized ghost of a human being living in a mongrelized ghost of a country." Naipaul, author of the much praised novels Fireflies and The Chip-Chip Gatherers, as well as two nonfiction books, makes every character vivid. (Born in Trinidad, he is the brother of novelist-essayist V.S. Naipaul.) This is a hypnotic, subtle, engrossing story of enormous power, conveying imaginatively what must be the unhappy reality of life in many parts of the world today. (Viking, $14.95)

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