Commentary – A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River (Essay by Paula Stephanie Andropoulos)

Commentary

by Dr. Alexandra Manglis:

It was an honor to read the applications for the first year of the Konstantin Sofianos scholarship that was so brilliantly put together by his family and partner. I was impressed by the quality of the papers, not least because the chosen novel applicants had to respond to, V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in The River, is as difficult and as slippery as novels come. While it was a difficult decision, I found Paula Stephanie Andropoulos’s paper to be the stronger one and I am delighted that she has been awarded the scholarship’s inaugural award.

Ms. Andropoulos’s paper stood out due to the confidence of her voice and the level of her writing skill. Her paper moved swiftly into the oft-contested nature of the novel’s unconscious racism versus detachment, which may, at first, seem irrelevant to the essay question. But, with a little graceful wiggling, she was able to show how this discussion is key to understanding that in fact Naipaul’s novel has a “preoccupation with the crucial interplay of history and identity,” evidenced in the protagonist’s racism, and that to denounce the novel as Edward Said famously did, is to ignore the complexity of the postcolonial world Naipaul draw out for us. This was a bold opening to the essay, which then led her to argue that it is “worthwhile to examine the narrator’s reliance on archetypes as an invalid but historically derived means of interpreting his profound sense of alienation.” Ms. Andropoulos continued with a compelling investigation of how, in the novel, world and history are peeled out into layers of false constructs that have little bearing on the characters’ real-life situations, even as the characters grip onto them. I was particularly impressed with her brief reading of Father Huismans and his violent demise as a representative of past colonial ideas of “utopian modernity” that cannot survive the anarchy of Salim’s town. I was also grateful for Ms. Andropoulos’s deft use of secondary material: well incorporated but not overbearing, showing that she had read around the book and understood the broader academic discussions at play.

I am sure Ms. Andropoulos has much to contribute to UCT’s English department, and indeed any English department should she decide to pursue English at a postgraduate level. I look forward to hearing how she fares in the future and I hope this scholarship will help her on her way forward