20 June, 2021

In Naipaul's Wake

A preview of The Genius of India: much to anticipate, and excoriate

In Naipaul's Wake
Guy Sorman is a writer in a hurry. He lands at Meenambakam airport and is soon sitting in a taxi bound for Pondicherry. He takes out his notebook. "We enter Madras," he writes, "and we look for Madras. Has this city ever had the form of a city?" But a taxi from the airport to Pondicherry doesn't get within 15 km of Madras: he's basing his appraisal of the city on a glance at its southern suburbs.

Does this invalidate his opinion? Perhaps not. Even Mount Road lacks urban distinction. But should we worry about a writer who doesn't check his facts? Perhaps, but let us read on.

In Pondicherry, Sorman decides to study the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He speaks to a few people and writes what he's learned, making three major and five minor errors in four pages. In other chapters I find so many blunders that I am forced to conclude that it is my own ignorance that prevents me from finding more. Le Monde's reviewer, commenting on Sorman's howlers in the original French, wrote that whatever the experts might think of the book, it contains more of the "real India" than...

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