The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul is an extremely nostalgic book that makes you question where and what is home. The book was published in the year of my birth, 1987, and has had several covers. This cover, with the wintery road is perhaps my favourite because I feel like it really captures the essence of the book. And too be honest, I’m a sucker for good cover art. That whole judging-a-book-by-its-cover thing is slightly askew for me.
The story is set in five main parts and jumps backwards and forwards throughout time. Naipaul is able to blend past sorrows with bitter sweet tomorrows in The Enigma of Arrival. If you have spent a lot of time away from your home country, or are still far away from what you call home then this is a book that will speak to you.
The book is in many ways a sad pastoral about the narrator’s experiences in the English countryside. It is also about seeing the world differently throughout different times in your life. Weather and geography play a huge part in the development of the story and of the characters. I imagined the descriptions of the English countryside painted in water colour and tinged with a longing much bigger than just missing home.
Naipaul, rather beautifully, manages to show the contrasts of leaving and coming, remembering and forgetting, and connectedness and disconnection. Naipaul shows the difference of reality versus expectation with sometimes brutal honesty and poetry. I can highly recommend this book to any reader, but be warned: this book will leave you with a nostalgia that will take over your heart.
“The river was called the Avon; not the one connected with Shakespeare. Later – when the land had more meaning, when it had absorbed more of my life than the tropical street where I had grown up – I was able to think of the flat wet fields with the ditches as ‘water meadows’ or ‘wet meadows’, and the low smooth hills in the background, beyond the river, as ‘downs’. But just then, after the rain, all that I saw – though I had been living in England for twenty years – were flat fields and a narrow river.”