Writing to his eldest son Vidia in Oxford in 1950, Seepersad Naipaul observed: “Your letters are charming in their spontaneity. If you could write me letters about things and people–especially people–at Oxford, I could compile them in a book.” The book envisaged by Seepersad, Letters between a Father and Son, published originally in 1999, was issued last month by Picador in a revised and expanded edition, in time to be read side-by-side with Patrick French’s award-winning biography The Worlds Is What It Is (2008). The collection covers the period between Naipaul’s departure from his native Trinidad in 1950 to study at Oxford, to the untimely death of his father in 1953 at the age of 47. Alongside the letters between father and son are those between Naipaul and his older sister, Kamla, a student at the Benares Hindu University in India, who is advised by her 17-year-old brother to watch her personal effects carefully as the Indians are a thieving lot.
The letters, edited by Nicholas Laughlin and Gillon Aitken, were reviewed this past Monday in Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday:
The charm of the book lies in the details of daily life, the pathos in the small sums of money (by today’s standards) that make all the difference between comfort and misery as one or another sends money as and when there was cash to spare. For Seepersad, life seems to have been a hand to mouth existence, he did not spare himself in his efforts to help his children, even while, from time to time, he scolded them for not writing as often as he would wish.
Some small delights in this collection of letters are the postscripts written by the younger children, and details of family feuds with cousins, uncles, aunts. And there is VSN’s mother fearing the worst is convinced he is sick — or worse — when no letters come from him for several weeks. In fact he did suffer from depression for a short time and, to judge by many of his letters, he was often desperately homesick, not so much for Trinidad, but for his family, his father, mother, sisters and concern for younger brother Shiva.
For more information on the new edition go to http://www.panmacmillan.com/titles/displayPage.asp?PageTitle=Individual%20Title&BookID=413715