A moving and beautiful novel of the transformation of rural England. Taking its title from the strangely frozen picture by surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, the Enigma of Arrival is the story of a young Indian from the Crown Colony of Trinidad who arrives in post-imperial England and consciously, over many years, finds himself as a writer. As he does so, he also observes the gradual but profound and permanent changes wrought on the English landscape by the march of "progress", as an old world is lost to the relentless ...
A moving and beautiful novel of the transformation of rural England. Taking its title from the strangely frozen picture by surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, the Enigma of Arrival is the story of a young Indian from the Crown Colony of Trinidad who arrives in post-imperial England and consciously, over many years, finds himself as a writer. As he does so, he also observes the gradual but profound and permanent changes wrought on the English landscape by the march of "progress", as an old world is lost to the relentless drift of people and things over the face of the earth. But while this is a novel of dignity, compassion and candour it is also, perhaps surprisingly, a work of celebration.
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The Enigma of Arrival deals with the years when Naipaul is writing his novel in a cottage in the countryside of Wiltshire. I found it hard to read it the first time around, but I knew Naipaul was a writer worthy of a second read, so I kept in there and of course I was not disappointed. I loved his descriptions of the country lane, of the wonderful farm laborer Jack, of his idyllic pink cottage, and of his garden on the edge of a swamp with its view of Stonehenge. I loved the descriptions of how slowly things changed. In the village Naipaul meets some of the villagers going about their work, makes a few friends, but in general keeps his distance. He goes for long walks through the meadows and along the ancient footpaths, observing the changing landscape. There is in his ?voice? a distinct air of melancholy. Naipaul watches as Jack the gardener?s health fails and his garden decays. After he dies new occupants take over his cottage, and to make way for a car park they put concrete over his garden. The idea of timelessness, of Jack being ? solid, rooted in his earth? turns out to be false for the village is a mere microcosm. Even in this quiet place there is change and decay. It is clear that Naipaul admires Jack for accepting his lot in life: Jack's final act is to visit the local pub to be with all his friends before he dies -- Jack has no illusions or pretensions in the face of death. Naipaul, during his stay in Wiltshire, speaks of his spirit being broken, of illness, of exhaustion. He has this to say concerning the title and theme: "...arrival is an enigma because the narrator arrives in a place that is familiar and unfamiliar, a place that is home and yet not home, a place that changes even at the very moment that the writer is writing about it, above all, a place where one arrives by not arriving." In order to fit in Naipaul feels he has to deny his own culture and race. But gradually, as he explores in more and more depth the history of the Wiltshire countryside, interspersed with periodic visits to Trinidad, his views begin to change. For most of his life Naipaul had shunned his Caribbean roots but gradually begins to see ruin and decay on both sides of the Atlantic. He finds it difficult to deal with his Postcolonial and racial status, but he ultimately reaches a point where he feels he can write and live honestly in rural England. Naipaul found that to write about Jack and his cottage and his garden it was necessary for him to have a second life in the valley. He finds a small paperback booklet about the paintings of Georgio de Chirco. One painting in particular caught his attention: The Enigma of Arrival. The painting shows a port, a sail, a tower, two figures. Naipaul makes one of the figures a traveler who arrives at a ?dangerous classical city.? Gradually... his feeling of adventure would give way to panic. I imagined some religious ritual in which, led on by kindly people, he would unwittingly take part and find himself the intended victim. At the moment of crisis he would come upon a door, open it, and find himself back on the quayside of arrival... only one thing is missing now... The antique ship has gone. The traveler has lived out his life.? Later on, realizing that he has alienated himself from his ethnic background and that ?concealing this colonial-Hindu self below the writing personality [has done] both my material and myself much damage,? he attempts to recover the past by traveling to ?fragments of still surviving empires? ?the Caribbean, the Guianas, India. Even then he continues to identify with the image of the ?metropolitan traveler,? although in reality he is a ?colonial among colonials.? The Enigma of Arrival is ultimately a book about Naipaul exploring rather than escaping his experience as an exile. It is his journey across cultural borders, his journey toward a new identity, his journey toward his vocation as a writer. He explores his feelings of foreignness in the countryside of England in ways that enable him to write and live honestly. He vividly describes a conflict with his cultural identity when, during his first night in a dark New York hotel room, feeling very alone and guilty, he eats oily chicken given to him by a family member in Trinidad. ?So, from the starting point of Trinidad, my knowledge and self-knowledge grew. The street in Port of Spain where I had spent part of my childhood; a re-construction of my ?Indian? family life in Trinidad; a journey to Caribbean and South American colonies; a later journey to the special ancestral land of India. My curiosity spread in all directions. Every exploration, every book, added to my knowledge, qualified my earlier idea of myself and the world.? Finally he reaches a point where he feels he can both write and live honestly, whether exploring his feelings of foreignness in rural England, or speaking of an experience of racial prejudice on his first boat trip to England. ?The story had become more personal: my journey, the writer's journey, the writer defined by his writing discoveries, his ways of seeing, rather than by his personal adventures, writer and man separating at the beginning of the journey and coming together again in a second life just before the end.? The death of his sister was a breakthrough for Naipaul. He returns to Trinidad for the religious ceremony and is disappointed by a pundit?s fancy car and flippant attitude. But it is here among his family that he integrates his understanding of life and death, and it is here that he realizes that to view nature and to experience life is to see the processes of growth and decay in constant battle. ?Every generation now was to take us further away from these sanctities. But we remade the world for ourselves; every generation does that, as we found when we came together for the death of this sister and felt the need to honor and remember. It showed my life and man as the mystery, the true religion of me, the grief and the glory. ? And that was when, faced with a real death, and with this new wonder about men, I laid aside my drafts and hesitations and began to write very fast about Jack and his garden.?
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