“The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”
A Bend in the River is the story of Salim, a native of India, who travels to Africa in search of a better life. He finds himself at a town at the bend of a large river in a newly independent African nation. The author does not name this nation, but only claims that it is centrally located, just east of Uganda. Salim purchases a shop for a greatly discounted rate – it’s owner having left for “safer” Uganda.
This was not an “easy” book to read. While the writing was excellent, the storyline was kind of dull, and the characters lifeless. The only reason I didn’t give up on the book, was it’s length. I decided it was short enough to carry on through to the end. That said, I appreciated having Salim as the narrator. In the beginning he talked about how Africans (and other third world peoples under foreign rule) felt like slaves, and only wanted to be treated like men. As the story progressed, we see how power corrupts those who wield it, and the country suffers. Salim is eventually forced to leave Africa, taking up residence in London, but he never feels comfortable there. He is not familiar with it’s customs and feels he is taken advantage of. It is not long before he heads back to Africa, only to find that the new government has nationalized all the businesses, his included. It reminded me a bit of Atlas Shrugged, where the current government and it’s followers are nothing but looters, who don’t know the first thing about business. They take and take, and when they have ruined the businesses they stole, they seek to take from anyone to even appears to have some wealth. Which is unfortunate for Salim, who must this time escape from Africa.
There are some books, while not particularly enjoyable to read, are none the less important because of the issues they present. A Bend in the River is one of those books. It definitely left me thinking long after I’d finished reading it. Perhaps that is why the author won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1979