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V. S. Naipaul: The Suffrage of Elvira

Naipaul’s second novel concerns the community of Elvira in Trinidad, facing the second general election, since universal suffrage had been allowed, in 1950. Pat Harbans, an ethnic Indian, has decided to run for a seat in Trinidad’s Legislative Council, primarily to help him in getting road contracts. He is happy to pay a reasonable amount to make sure that he gets a seat. He first tries to woo the Muslim leader, Baksh, and the Hindu leader, Chittanrajan. But soon there is a price to pay, whether it is marrying his son to Chittanrajan’s daughter or giving a job to Baksh’s son or having to pay for access to virtually any voter. Indeed, it goes wrong from the very beginning when he nearly runs over two American Jehovah’s Witnesses on their bicycle and a black bitch (a dog, though we don’t learn that for a few pages). Naipaul does not hold back with the satire, with his not very subtle remarks about the price of democracy. Harbans’ opponent, Preacher Thomas, a black man, gets the support of another Hindu, Lorkhoor, which make Harbans, a man inclined to depression, ready to give up, till Lorkhoor is persuaded to change his mind. Things go from bad to worse as democracy tries to establish its precarious hold in Elvira and Naipaul leaves us in no doubt that there is a long way to go.

Publishing history

First published by André Deutsch in 1958