Thursday, July 28, 2011


The Suffrage of Elvira, V S Naipaul, Alfred A Knopf, 1958, 179 pp

Naipaul's second novel again takes place in Trinidad. It is a spoof on democracy and elections in a developing country.

Mr Surujpat Harbans is running for General Assembly as representative for the village of Elvira. Of course he doesn't live there but lives in the city. He is financing his own campaign and visits Elvira to line up his supporters. The villagers, in just four years of democracy, have figured out how to make money for themselves by offering various services to the candidate.

This makes for a hilarious story as Harbans is fleeced for everything from posters to a loudspeaking van and a final cavalcade of taxis on election eve. Then there are the niceties of the Hindu vote, the Muslim vote, the Negro vote and the Spanish vote, not to mention various necessary bribes. One of the funniest lines comes from a less wealthy candidate who proclaims that there ought to be a law about how much a candidate can spend on his own election campaign. This story is set in 1950!

Apparently Naipaul's humor turns to a more bitter cynicism in his later novels, which I have not read. So far, in The Mystic Masseur and in this one, he provides great entertainment and an inside look at the various peoples who make up post colonial life in Trinidad.

(The Suffrage of Elvira is out of print. It can be found in libraries and from used book sellers.)

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