This article by ILIA BLINDERMAN appeared in The New York Daily News.
Writers’ feuds tend to approach Biggie vs. Tupac magnitude (and really, wasn’t their enmity accompanied by a hearty dose of poetic feeling?), and V.S. Naipaul has attracted a long line of literary altercations. The Nobel-winner (who, incidentally, is the recipient of a slew of other awards) drew the ire of Salman Rushdie, infuriated Derek Walcott and was verbally walloped by Edward Said’s labels of “scavenger” and “native informer.”
In her upcoming book, “Americanah,” Nigerian Orange Prize-winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie finally reaches the front of the Naipaul queue. In response to a white liberal character’s praise for Naipaul’s “A Bend in the River,” Adichie’s protagonist “made a sound, halfway between a snort and nothing… It was about Europe, or the longing for Europe, about the battered self-image of an Indian man born in Africa, who felt so wounded, so diminished, by not having been born European…”
Naipaul wasn’t born in Africa, but in Trinidad; nevertheless, the passage speaks with the requisite veiled clarity of the literary insult.
Adichie is only too happy to confirm this.
“I’ve become very tired of this nonsense where he’s supposed to be the best writer in the world. God bless him, I wish him well, but I think that just because you’re an old man who’s nasty doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t actually take your work apart,” she told the London Evening Standard.
Considering the breadth of authors who have taken issue with Naipaul over the years, it’s not surprising that Adichie’s scorn isn’t the first to manifest in this manner. In Kiran Desai’s 2006 Pulitzer-winning “The Inheritance of Loss,” a similar vignette plays out when two characters discuss Naipaul’s “A Bend in the River.” When one lauds the book, the other responds, “Oh, I don’t know… I think he’s strange. Stuck in the past… He has not progressed. Colonial neurosis, he’s never freed himself from it.”
Naipaul, who has repeatedly faced accusations of both neo-colonialist tendencies and right wing inclinations (his warnings of Islamofascism were first rejected, then became a commonly held view), has rejected claims that he views the world through a political lens.
“I didn’t make the world; I tried to record it accurately and without prejudice. To have a political view is to be prejudiced. I don’t have a political view,” he told The Guardian in 2001.
Despite such assertions, Naipaul’s most recent novel holds a dim view of Africa:
“I found out what was the best way of killing a cat or kitten. You put them in a sack of some sort and then you dropped the sack in a pot of boiling water. The thought of this everyday kitchen cruelty made everything else in Ivory Coast seem unimportant,” he writes in “The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief.”
Considering both history (Naipaul has failed to respond to Kiran Desai’s barb) and pedigree, however, one doubts that Naipaul will lose much sleep over this sort of literary spat.