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V.S. Naipaul - Nobel Laureate - dies at 85

15/08/2018

V.S. Naipaul  died August 11, 2018 in his home in London.  A revered and controversial figure in the world of literature, Naipaul won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, and the Booker in 1971, just some of the worldwide recognition he had in his lifetime.

Compared to Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy for his fiction, he also attracted strong criticism for some of his expressed views, especially about Africa and women.

He was best known for A House for Mr. Biswas, set in Trinidad, and loosely based on his own father and family.  He also wrote non-fiction, and was written about: he was taken to task for his behavior by the travel writer Paul Theroux, in Sir Vidia's Shadow despite their longterm friendship.  A Bend in the River is a fascinating and dark novel set in a country resembling Mobutu's Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and indebted to Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

When winning the Nobel, the Academy described Naipaul as a "literary navigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice". 

Image: In A Free State

In A Free State

By Naipaul, V. S.
Image: Half A Life

Half A Life

By Naipaul, V. S.
Image: Between Father and Son

Between Father and Son

Family Letters
By Naipaul, V. S.
Image: In the Name of Humanity

In the Name of Humanity

The Secret Deal to End the Holocaust
By Wallace, Max

Comments

For years before he won the Nobel I thought Naipaul was the greatest writer working in English. 'A House for Mr Biswas' is a Dostoyevskyan family saga, sad and bitterly funny, easily relatable for people from many cultures. His early short novels about life in Trinidad- 'Miguel Street' and 'The Mystic Masseur', are lovely, funny, empathetic, and very revealing. I must say I was surprised when I began to hear what a nasty person he could be, as his writing did not betray that side of his character- but then, many great artists have been miserable people who used others to feed their own needs...
His travel books are also rich and highly worthwhile, though highly controversial as well- 'Among the Believers' about the Islamic world and the rising fundamentalism was quite overwhelming for me at a time when none of that was much discussed, though the Iranian religious revolution had already happened. It proved prophetic, it seems to me. Then he had his books about India, which, quite understandably, he found a very difficult place to be-- and he did not mince words.
Ah yes, another novel I loved of his was 'The Mimic Men', which I remember as the story of a failed politician from a fictional Caribbean island living in London and dreaming of his glory days.
Do read Naipaul if you haven't yet- or reread him--I intend to!