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Miguel Street
Cover of Miguel Street
Miguel Street
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"A stranger could drive through Miguel Street and just say 'Slum!' because he could see no more." But to its residents this derelict corner of Trinidad's capital is a complete world, where everybody is quite different from everybody else. There's Popo the carpenter, who neglects his livelihood to build "the thing without a name." There's Man-man, who goes from running for public office to staging his own crucifixion, and the dreaded Big Foot, the bully with glass tear ducts. There's the lovely Mrs. Hereira, in thrall to her monstrous husband. In this tender, funny early novel, V. S. Naipaul renders their lives (and the legends their neighbors construct around them) with Dickensian verve and Chekhovian compassion.
Set during World War II and narrated by an unnamed–but precociously observant–neighborhood boy, Miguel Street is a work of mercurial mood shifts, by turns sweetly melancholy and anarchically funny. It overflows with life on every page.
"A stranger could drive through Miguel Street and just say 'Slum!' because he could see no more." But to its residents this derelict corner of Trinidad's capital is a complete world, where everybody is quite different from everybody else. There's Popo the carpenter, who neglects his livelihood to build "the thing without a name." There's Man-man, who goes from running for public office to staging his own crucifixion, and the dreaded Big Foot, the bully with glass tear ducts. There's the lovely Mrs. Hereira, in thrall to her monstrous husband. In this tender, funny early novel, V. S. Naipaul renders their lives (and the legends their neighbors construct around them) with Dickensian verve and Chekhovian compassion.
Set during World War II and narrated by an unnamed–but precociously observant–neighborhood boy, Miguel Street is a work of mercurial mood shifts, by turns sweetly melancholy and anarchically funny. It overflows with life on every page.
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    IBOGART

    Every morning when he got up Hat would sit on the banister of his back verandah and shout across, 'What happening there, Bogart?'

    Bogart would turn in his bed and mumble softly, so that no one heard, 'What happening there, Hat?'

    It was something of a mystery why he was called Bogart; but I suspect that it was Hat who gave him the name. I don't know if you remember the year the film Casablanca was made. That was the year when Bogart's fame spread like fire through Port of Spain and hundreds of young men began adopting the hardboiled Bogartian attitude.

    Before they called him Bogart they called him Patience, because he played that game from morn till night. Yet he never liked cards.

    Whenever you went over to Bogart's little room you found him sitting on his bed with the cards in seven lines on a small table in front of him.

    'What happening there, man?' he would ask quietly, and then he would say nothing for ten or fifteen minutes. And somehow you felt you couldn't really talk to Bogart, he looked so bored and superior. His eyes were small and sleepy. His face was fat and his hair was gleaming black.

    His arms were plump. Yet he was not a funny man. He did everything with a captivating languor. Even when he licked his thumb to deal out the cards there was grace in it.

    He was the most bored man I ever knew.

    He made a pretence of making a living by tailoring, and he had even paid me some money to write a sign for him:

    TAILOR AND CUTTER Suits made to Order Popular and Competitive Prices

    He bought a sewing machine and some blue and white and brown chalks. But I never could imagine him competing with anyone; and I cannot remember him making a suit. He was a little bit like Popo, the carpenter next door, who never made a stick of furniture and was always planing and chiselling and making what I think he called mortises. Whenever I asked him, 'Mr Popo, what you making?' he would reply, 'Ha, boy! That's the question. I making the thing without a name.' Bogart was never even making anything like this.

    Being a child, I never wondered how Bogart came by any money. I assumed that grown-ups had money as a matter of course. Popo had a wife who worked at a variety of jobs; and ended up by becoming the friend of many men. I could never think of Bogart as having mother or father; and he never brought a woman to his little room. This little room of his was called the servant-room but no servant to the people in the main house ever lived there. It was just an architectural convention.

    It is still something of a miracle to me that Bogart managed to make friends. Yet he did make many friends; he was at one time quite the most popular man in the street. I used to see him squatting on the pavement with all the big men of the street. And while Hat or Edward or Eddoes was talking, Bogart would just look down and draw rings with his fingers on the pavement. He never laughed audibly. He never told a story. Yet whenever there was a fete or something like that, everybody would say, 'We must have Bogart. He smart like hell, that man.' In a way he gave them great solace and comfort, I suppose.

    And so every morning, as I told you, Hat would shout, very loudly, 'What happening there, Bogart?'

    And he would wait for the indeterminate grumble which was Bogart saying, 'What happening there, Hat?'

    But one morning, when Hat shouted, there was no reply. Something which had appeared unalterable was missing.

    Bogart had vanished; had left us without a word.

    The men in the street were silent and sorrowful for two whole days. They assembled in Bogart's little room. Hat lifted up the deck of...

About the Author-
  • V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He came to England on a scholarship in 1950. He spent four years at University College, Oxford, and began to write, in London, in 1954. He pursued no other profession.

    His novels include A House for Mr Biswas, The Mimic Men, Guerrillas, A Bend in the River, and The Enigma of Arrival. In 1971 he was awarded the Booker Prize for In a Free State. His works of nonfiction, equally acclaimed, include Among the Believers, Beyond Belief, The Masque of Africa, and a trio of books about India: An Area of Darkness, India: A Wounded Civilization and India: A Million Mutinies Now.

    In 1990, V.S. Naipaul received a knighthood for services to literature; in 1993, he was the first recipient of the David Cohen British Literature Prize. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. He lived with his wife Nadira and cat Augustus in Wiltshire, and died in 2018.
Reviews-
  • Mel Gussow, Newsday

    "One of the few contemporary writers of whom we can speak in terms of greatness."

  • San Francisco Chronicle "Miguel Street is the Bowery, the Tenderloin, and the Catfish Row of Trinidad's Port of Spain--its citizens a loony multitude whose knavery often rises from real kinship with pathos and tragedy. . . . Naipaul is at his best in these swift caricatures of human depravity."
  • Chicago Tribune "Amusing and poignant. . . . Excellent reading."
  • Robert Payne, Saturday Review "Naipaul does not tell stories. By some miraculous sleight-of-hand he takes you to Port of Spain and shows you the rich, bawdy, consequential lives of the Trinidadians, as though there were no intervening veil of words. . . . I rather suspect the mantle of Chekhov has fallen on Mr. Naipaul's shoulders."
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