Obituary: VS Naipaul – BBC News

Obituary: VS Naipaul – BBC News

VS NaipaulAuthor's image
Colin McPherson

It is universally agreed that Sir Vidia Naipaul was a great writer of the English phrase; a master stylist and storyteller with a cold and clear eye for the irony, the tragedies and the sufferings of humanity. But here everything stops.

For his many supporters, his fiction has had ruthless comic clarity and his journey has written a terrifying honesty, refusing to fascinate or idealize the developing world.

They greeted him as a towering intellect – offering an original, hot, refreshing critique, devoid of political correctness: attacking the cruelty of Islam, the corruption of Africa and the self-inflicted suffering it saw in the poorest parts of the globe. .

For his many critics, Naipaul's writing was worrying and even bigoted. They recognized his literary gifts but saw him as a hater: an uncle Tom who dealt with stereotypes, challenged his prejudices and let himself be taken by contempt for the world from which he came.

Of course, he gave cause for their resentment. "Probably there was no imperialism like that of Islam and the Arabs," he once declared. He was contemptuous of the Caribbean, wrote that Africa would return to the "bush" and often veered toward unrepentant misogyny.

"I read a piece of writing and, within a couple of paragraphs, I know if it's from a woman or not," he told an interviewer. "I think (I am) you learn to me." The women were tight and overly sentimental, he declared. Jane Austen, in particular, did not invent anything.

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John Minihan

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VS Naipaul in the 60s – the decade in which he published a series of books that explored his childhood memories in the Caribbean

His colleague Nobel, Derek Walcott, was pungent. Naipaul wrote a beautiful prose, he said, "marked by scrofula" and "a repulsion towards the Negroes … a physical and historical aberration that, like every prejudice, disfigures the observer".

The academic, Edward Said, harnessed himself for the attacks on Islam – claiming he found it hard to believe that any rational person could attack entire cultures on such a scale.

In person, Sir Vidia could be gracious. But, just as often, he was just as haughty, irascible and quickly provoked to bile. He has enjoyed epic feuds with friends and enemies, has acted indescribably for women and has boasted of a general lack of sensitivity towards all those who have crossed his path.

When Salman Rushdie went to hide after The Satanic Verses, for example, Naipaul described the fatwa as "an extreme form of literary criticism". So he threw his head back and laughed.


Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in the rural area of ​​Trinidad on 17 August 1932. The island of his birth was a complicated post-colonial mosaic of racial tensions and subtle hierarchies.

His grandparents were workers: part of the great 19th century Indian diaspora that had settled in the Caribbean. Young Vidia grew up as a Hindu, part of a displaced community within a plantation company. It was a mixture of stories, customs and ethnic identities that later formed an important part of his work.

Naipaul's father, Seepersad, was a journalist from the Guardian of Trinidad who revered Shakespeare and Dickens. He read the great works of European literature aloud for his children – giving the young Vidia a burning ambition for writing, a "fantasy of nobility" and a "panic for failure".

He attended the Queen's Royal College, proving himself a capable student. After graduating, he won a government scholarship by giving him access to the Commonwealth University of his choice. In 1950, he arrived in Oxford.

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Naipaul suffered from loneliness and depression during his time at University College, Oxford. He found it less intellectually stimulating.


The university college was a period of poverty and terrible loneliness. Isolated and unsure of his future, Naipaul became severely depressed. On impulse, he made a trip to Spain where the money quickly ended. There was a frustrated suicide attempt when the gas meter ran out.

His savior was his father, with whom he kept in touch by letter: a Naipaul correspondence later published as Letters between a father and a son (1999).

He had little love for his country, describing Trinidad as "not important, not creative, cynical … point on the map". But it did not even heat up in Britain, finding it a country of second order of "political bums, scruffy writers and crooked aristocrats".

He moved to London with his new wife, Patricia Hale – whom he met in college. His father died and Naipaul found himself in another small isolated world – this time as an aspiring writer. "I became my apartment, my desk, my name."

With a growing emotional and physical detachment, he began to write about his childhood. His first three books – The Mystic Masseur (1957), The Suffrage of Elvira (1958) and Miguel Street (1959) – were set in the Caribbean and published in rapid succession.

To keep himself, he churned out the reviews of the books and created radio programs. "I was," he said, "a skilled compromise."

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Naipaul published his first three books in rapid succession. However, his masterpiece – A House For Mr. Biswas – took him three years to write.


Then came his undisputed masterpiece. A house for Mr. Biswas took more than three years to write and, at the time of completion, he knew it by heart. But beneath the masterful comic writing lay such a series of raw emotions, he hardly looked at him again.

It was a chronicle of a sprawling, densensian family about a man's dreams of independence. Mr. Biswas was originally from Trinidad, continually engaged in an elusive success. He marries in a domineering family but, without a home, he can not be the author of his own destiny.

Fight to build it; abandoning his relationships in decadence, creating his freedom and establishing respect for himself. Above all, it was the writer's attempt to come to terms with his own identity and the pivotal figure of his life: his father.

Biswas represented Seepersad while the son of the character, Anand, made himself. On their report, Naipaul wrote self-analysis barely disguised as fiction – with sharp sentences and a ruthless pen:

"Although no one recognized his strength, Anand was among the strongest, his satirical sense kept him aloof, initially it was just a pose, an imitation of his father, but satire led to contempt … led to inadequacies, to himself – having loneliness and lasting loneliness, but made him unassailable. "

The book was a sensation, published all over the world in 1961. But Naipaul felt exhausted and made, for now, with written literature. He spent the following years traveling in the Caribbean, India and Africa, describing what he saw and reaching for a greater understanding of his displaced identity.

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Naipaul had little time for Western idealists who romanticized India and looked for spiritual enlightenment

Global traveler

His writings offer a personal notion of history as a series of tragic and random upheavals, leaving in their wake the "semi-facts" developing worlds. An Area of ​​Darkness (1964) tells the story of India. Naipaul has only contempt for Westerners who look to the sub-continent for spiritual awakening.

Instead, he saw only the ugliness and the pleased refusal to recognize the horror of the "narrow broken lanes with green mud in the gutters, the untouched houses, the concoction of dirt and food, animals and people, the little one in the dust. , from the swollen belly, black with flies, but with the lucky charm ".

In Africa, he took a scholarship in residency at a university in Uganda – writing The Mimic Men (1967): a novel that traces the struggles of Ranjit & # 39; Ralph & # 39; Singh to balance his personal life and his political ambitions. Combining both fiction and non-fiction elements, he has satirized, as the title suggests, the efforts of Western India to imitate the behavior of their former European masters.

He traveled a lot on the continent, often portraying his life as desolate and his primitive people. In A Free State (1971) he won the Booker Prize with his portrait of a violent and post-colonial continent that attracts young white idealists in search of sexual freedom.

A young American, Paul Theroux, often joined him on his travels. Years later, Theroux discovered a book he had given to Naipaul in a second-hand bookshop. Offended, he published Sir Vidia & # 39; s Shadow, a book that portrayed his former friend as "a grouch, a reflection of skin, subject to whims, with a race to the brain". The result was an epically bitter 15-year feud.

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Ira Wyman

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The American travel writer and novelist, Paul Theroux, has published a caustic remembrance of his long friendship with Naipaul. & # 39; Sir Vidia & # 39; s Shadow & # 39; led to a 15-year-old feud between the two men.

Naipaul's career has seen explosions of extraordinary creativity linked to long periods of writer's block. The highlights included The Loss of Eldorado (1969), Guerillas (1975) and A Bend In The River (1979) – a post-colonial Africa photo that winds to hell.

His first line captures Naipaul's belief that the world is what man does; the responsibility for his failures is impossible: "The world is what it is", he wrote. "Men who are nothing, who become nothing, have no place in it".

He turned his gaze to Islamic fundamentalism in believers (1981). A New York Times writer observed that he carried such a dislike for religion "that a book with a comparable view of Christianity or Judaism would be hard to find a publisher" in America.

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Gerry Penny / EPA / REX / Shutterstock

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Sir Vidia Naipaul received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. Sir Paul Nurse, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine of the Year, congratulates him.

In his later years, he entered an autumn stage with The Enigma of Arrival (1987) and A Way in the World (1994), combining personal experience (albeit with the denial that he was autobiographical) with a wide historical scope. of post-war migration from the world development.

Nobel prize

A knighthood followed. And in 2001, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Academy compared him to Joseph Conrad and praised his ability to "turn rage into precision".

He rarely gave interviews, detesting journalists. On the rare occasion he did so, he invariably showed a great copy: merry describing Tony Blair as a "pirate" whose "socialist revolution" created a "plebeian culture", dismissing Dickens as a writer who died of "self-parody" and stabbing EM Forster as a man who knew nothing about India "but the gardeners who wanted to seduce".

Sir Vidia Naipaul will be remembered as a magical English prose craftsman. He also believed that the novel was "dead".

He leaves a complex and stimulating work library that – despairing the limits of fiction to describe reality – occupies a space between imagination, travel writing and autobiography in an attempt to capture the intricacies of the modern world.

He considered himself a solitary and stateless observer; free from ideology, politics and illusion. For his champions, he had few equals.

For the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, Naipaul represented the people of the third world "not with the sugary magical realism but with their demons, their misdeeds and horrors – that made them less victims and more human".

But for his detractors, Naipaul was essentially political; testifying against the postcolonial world with a great writing, but protected from criticism by virtue of being "one of them".

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