The Irascible Prophet: V. S. Naipaul at Home – New York Times
Posted On August 6, 2005
I was first introduced to V.S. Naipaul in the Pual Thoreaux book, In Sir Vidia’s Shadow, which documented the turbulent friendship of the two men. Later I read “A Bend in the River” and fell in love with his writing and his philosophy. In this NYT article, I find myself agreeing with him again, even as I currently read the biographies of several of my favorite novelists….cd
The Irascible Prophet: V. S. Naipaul at Home – New York Times LINK TO REST OF ARTICLE
Two monuments rise like emblems from the green countryside of Wiltshire, England, not far from the secluded house of V. S. Naipaul: Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. They are signposts in a landscape Naipaul has been traversing for more than half a century, one in which the impulses of culture, civilization and progress have always existed in close and uneasy proximity to the impulses of paganism, religion and disorder.
A prophet of our world-historical moment, in his more than 25 works of fiction and nonfiction, Naipaul has examined the clash between belief and unbelief, the unraveling of the British Empire, the migrations of peoples. They are natural subjects for a writer who, as he has recorded in his many fully, semi- and quasi-autobiographical books, was born in Trinidad, where his grandfather had emigrated from India as an indentured servant. His father, a newspaper reporter and aspiring fiction writer, was the model for what is arguably Naipaul’s finest novel, ”A House for Mr. Biswas” (1961). At 18, Naipaul left Trinidad on a scholarship to University College, Oxford, and has lived in England ever since. Alfred Kazin once described him as ”a colonial brought up in English schools, on English ways and the pretended reasonableness of the English mind.”
Knighted in 1990, Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul is Britain’s only living Nobel laureate in literature, having been awarded the prize in October 2001, a season when many were just awakening to realities Naipaul had been writing about for more than 20 years. Also significant is that he had explored Islamic fundamentalism and other issues of global import not through fiction, but through nonfiction reportage. The novel’s time was over, he had said. Others had made the claim before, but it resonated more deeply coming from a contemporary giant. What is more, Naipaul said, only nonfiction could capture the complexities of today’s world. It was a profound observation. But did it speak to a larger cultural situation, or was it simply the personal judgment of one cantankerous writer, who in fact continued to publish a novel every few years even after declaring the form dead?