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Alleys of Naipaul’s Childhood – a look at ‘Miguel Street’

June 19, 2008

The first novel of Naipaul, ‘The Mystic Masseur’, was published in 1957. But the first written work of fiction by him was, ‘Miguel Street’. He had completed it even before ‘The Mystic Masseur’, but had published it only in 1959.

It feels like his first novel. Every chapter is based on a character and his own simple story. All of them are nearly tramps and have tried their life in various ways, but in the end almost all of them return to Miguel Street. If ‘The Mystic Masseur’ is set in the rural Trinidad, then ‘Miguel Street’ is set in the urban Trinidad, its capital Port of Spain. Some of the characters even seem to be of fairy tales.

But the smallness of Trinidad is also felt here. We can feel it at many places like

‘There is no stupid pride among Trinidad craftsmen. No one is a specialist.’

The sense of being isolated and unimportant is also eternally present. One can feel oneself to be on the periphery of civilization, eager to know what happens at the centre. One can feel oneself to be bored and neglected. There is no spiritual consolation also. The civilization which they had, was long gone. The new one had never come.

Titus Hoyt says in the novel,

‘This fort was built at a time, when the French and them was planning to invade Trinidad.’

We gasped.

We had never realized that anyone considered us so important’

The World War II brought some actions to them as the people from the centre of the world, i.e., Americans came there.

‘Then the war came. Hitler invaded France and Americans invaded Trinidad. For the first time in Trinidad, there was work for everybody, and the Americans paid well.’

‘Miguel Street’ doesn’t mean much for an outsider. It doesn’t mean much for a general reader of Naipaul. I think it’s a book for a Naipaul completist, the one who is eager to know the formative years of Naipaul. Its main theme as all of other Naipaul’s Trinidadian novels is of smallness.

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