Naipaul: He chose a free state

Guest columnist Ravi Pereram (Sri Lanka’s Daily News) writes about Trinidadian author VS Naipaul. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Exquisite craftsman of the English language, magnificent story teller, and master of the unsparing nonfiction narrative, VS Naipaul, passed away two years ago. Grandson of an indentured Indian labourer shipped willy-nilly to a Caribbean island to work the newly established sugar farms, the Naipaul journey is an amazing modern era story of colonialism, migration, displacement and finally, of freedom.

From Trinidad the talented young Naipaul won a scholarship to Oxford to study English literature. Difficult times followed, while the budding author struggled to find his feet in an austere post World War (2) England. Then, came the compelling novels announcing the arrival of an extraordinary talent; the Mystic Masseur, A House for Mr. Biswas, Miguel Street, Mimic Men, A Bend in the River, the Enigma of Arrival; literary masterpieces, compared by critics to the works of the greats like Conrad, Dickens and Tolstoy.

It is however in his riveting non-fiction, travel writing to put it simply; a searing juggernaut into post-colonial societies, and the corroded souls inhabiting them, that Naipaul stands on Olympian heights.

To attempt to review Naipaul’s wide ranging coverage of a large swath of humanity in one short tribute is daunting. However, we can offer a few extracts from some of his writings, hoping to inspire the reader to explore further. [. . .]

Naipaul’s magisterial, frighteningly acute expositions of the former colonies, their people and palpable failings are not without detractors. Caribbean born poet and writer Derek Walcott, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in literature called him VS “Nightfall” in a poem, arguing that Naipaul was scarred by his revulsion towards Blacks and that his self-disfiguring sneer is praised for its probity. Nevertheless, Walcott was pleased when Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (in 2001), “It will mean something for the region”.

VS Naipaul’s younger brother Shiva Naipaul, who followed his famous brother to Oxford several years later to study literature, wrote “The longer I live the more convinced I become that one of the greatest honours we can confer on other people is to see them as they are, to recognize not only that they exist, but that they exist in specific ways and have specific realities”.

Perhaps this is the main lesson in Naipaul. People are different, they exist in different realities. [. . .] For full article, see

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