Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples

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9780375501180: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples

"For sheer abundance of talent, there can hardly be a writer alive who surpasses V. S. Naipaul. [He is] the world's writer, a master of language and perception."--The New York Times Book Review

"A superlative traveler who misses nothing worth the record."--The Times (London)

Beyond Belief is a book about one of the more important and unsettling issues of our time: the effects of the Islamic conversion of Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia. It is not a book of opinion. It is--in the Naipaul way--a very rich and human book, full of people and stories.
        Islam is an Arab religion, and it makes imperial Arabizing demands on its converts. In this way it is more than a private faith, and it can become a neurosis. What has this Arab Islam done to the histories of these converted countries? How do the converted peoples, non-Arabs, view their past--and their future? In a follow-up to Among the Believers, his classic account of his travels through these countries, V. S. Naipaul returns after seventeen years to find out how and what the converted preach.
        In Indonesia he finds a pastoral people who have lost their history through a confluence of Islam and technology. In Iran he discovers a religious tyranny as oppressive as the secular one of the Shah, and he meets people weary of the religious rules that govern every aspect of their lives. Pakistan--in a tragic realization of a Muslim re-creation fantasy--inherited blood feuds, rotting palaces, antique cruelty; then President Zia installed religious terror with $100 million of Saudi money. In Malaysia, the Muslim Youth organization is alive and growing, and the people are mentally, physically, and geographically torn between two worlds, struggling to live the impossible dream of a true faith born out of a spiritual vacancy.
        A startling and revelatory addition to the Naipaul canon, Beyond Belief confirms the author's reputation as a masterly observer, a "finder-out" of stories, as well as a magnificent teller of them.

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Review:

Acclaimed writer V.S. Naipaul has the eye of a novelist, the fearless curiosity of a 2-year-old, and the tenacity of a cornered badger. In Beyond Belief, he puts these three attributes to use in delving into the secrets of Islam--the other Islam, that is. Journeying into the non-Arab Islamic countries of Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia, Naipaul wonders about how these young nations are absorbing a resurgent Islam into their ancient societies and where it might lead them. His exploration is at the grassroots level, through the people living and breathing Islam today. Naipaul illustrates his points with vignettes about characters he meets, by both happenstance and calculation, along the way. We learn about their histories, their families' histories, their motivations, and their dreams. The mosaic that materializes is not always appealing, for Naipaul is a sensitive but disinterested observer, more a watcher than a champion. Islam, we learn, is a font of hope for the converted peoples, sweet when taken in gulps but often bearing an acrid aftertaste. It buries traditional cultures under promising new foundations, indirectly encourages broken families through polygamy, and turns only tentatively to face the issues of modernity. From beginning to end, we find ourselves empathizing with Naipaul's subjects, seeing ourselves in their struggles with family, religion, and nation, feeling their drive to create a fresh world of virtue and prosperity. --Brian Bruya

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praise for v. s. naipaul

"        V. S. Naipaul is one of the greatest living writers in the English language. Yet, when so many are 'one of' this and that, how can even the superlative 'greatest' give an idea of the scope of this expansive novelist and essayist? In Naipaul we have a talent of extraordinary dimensions and excellence. His themes, his vision of human destiny in our time, are composed with a perfection of language, a narrative gift as flowing and inventive as that of the supreme novelists of the nineteenth century, a flawless sense of structure--and above all a profound knowledge of the world."
--Elizabeth Hardwick

"        An admirable, thinking traveller who exposes himself to the scene. He is a born narrator in the small or large scene. Every place and person and mind comes to life. Like most travellers he uses all his wits to make people talk of themselves and he is so persistent in this that, again and again, it strikes us that they would not have known how to do so without his ingenious Socratic questioning. He is not out for 'copy' but to explore states of experience and mind."
--V. S. Pritchett

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