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In a Free State

In a Free State is a short story by V. S. Naipaul. It was published in 1971 as one of three short stories within a book of the same name, but is by far the longest. All three stories have a similar theme.

Plot summary
The story is set in a fictional African state that has recently acquired independence. The King, although liked by the Colonials, is weak, and the President is poised to take power. Comparisons could be made with Uganda, as there is mention of the Asian community being "deported".

Bobby is an official who has been attending a conference. He now heads back to the "Compound" where he lives, and he has offered a lift to Linda, another colleague's wife. We learn very early on that Bobby is homosexual. He is rebuffed by a young Zulu when he tries to pick him up at the Hotel bar. He soon discovers that Linda has plans of her own as they embark on the journey.

The relationship between the two is complex from the outset; it seems Bobby is intent on aggravating the initially calm Linda. He seems to despise all her utterings, saying "that's been said before" when she attempts an anecedote. Things go from bad to worse when they put up at a Hotel, run by an old Colonel who is verging on complete madness. There, they have dinner, and they witness a dreadful scene between the Colonel and Peter, his servant. Furthermore Bobby discovers that Linda was planning some extra marital activity with a friend along the way, and he becomes furious and hostile.

The two reach their destination, but not before Bobby is severely "roughed up" by the army, he and Linda experience first hand the awaiting terror.

The story is little more than a road trip, but the reader becomes aware, as do Bobby and Linda, of the situation and how serious it has become. Africa as an English suburb is no longer tenable.

This book won the Booker Prize Award in 1971.

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