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Shiva Naipaul: The Chip-Chip Gatherers

While still an enjoyable novel and well told, this is not as well realised as Fireflies. It is set in a small Hindu settlement in Trinidad, called only the Settlement, and tells the story of Egbert Ramsaran. He had been born Ashok Ramsaran but, as soon as he can, he leaves the Settlement, changes his name and religion (becoming Presbyterian) and sets up in the trucking business at which he does very well. He marries Rani but, like Baby in Fireflies, she is a badly treated wife and eventually dies. But it is not only his wife that he treats badly. He is harsh with all the inhabitants of the area and his employees, enjoying his power for its own sake. His own son, Wilbert, is weak and under the thrall of his father. However, it is the women of the community who, as in Fireflies, emerge as the most interesting and lively characters and the ones who rise above Egbert and his ways. First there is Sushila who, after Rani’s death, takes control of Egbert and is one of the few capable of doing so. Her daughter, Sita, who is the narrator of the book, is a sensitive person and tries to survive with her reading but realises that she is trapped. She still shows a strength of character and intelligence that we have seen in Baby Lutchman in Fireflies. It is not a bad story, with some interesting characters but not as good as its predecessor.

Publishing history

First published by André Deutsch in 1973