"Every writer is, in the long run, on his own, but it helps, in the most practical way to have a tradition. The English language was mine; the [English] tradition was not." Born and raised in Trinidad to a family of... [more]
"Every writer is, in the long run, on his own, but it helps, in the most practical way to have a tradition. The English language was mine; the [English] tradition was not."
Born and raised in Trinidad to a family of Indian Brahmin origin, writer V. S. Naipaul manipulates his rootlessness into an ability to observe with extreme objectivity. Drawing honesty from the margins of society, Naipaul's novels and non-fiction works address the growing sense of displacement experienced by newly independent Third World nations.
After receiving a scholarship to Oxford in 1950, Naipaul left the colonized world of Trinidad and embraced the colonizing motherland of the United Kingdom. Struggling for nearly a decade to make his mark on the literary map, Naipaul produced several well-respected comic novels -- "The Mystic Masseur" (1957), "The Suffrage of Elvira" (1958), and "Miguel Street" (1959) -- that dissect life in urban and rural Trinidad.
However, it wasn't until the publication of "A House for Mr. Biswas" (1961) that Naipaul received the attention and praise he sought. The text tells the story of a journalist and aspiring fiction writer who struggles to own a home -- a struggle that becomes a metaphor for his psychological fight to connect with a place of origin. Set in Trinidad, the novel explores eccentric characters that have been described as Dickens-like in nature.
After this, Naipaul entered a new, darker phase of his career. In 1962, he received a grant to travel to India. Instead of a homeland, he found a nation torn by poverty and a rigid caste system. Disheartened by the trip, Naipaul adopted a new style that would describe the post-colonial worlds of India and other newly "free" nations. The non-fiction "An Area of Darkness" (1964) brutally conveys India's devastating state of disrepair. Naipaul abandons all sentimentality and hope -- as far as he is concerned, Third World nations are doomed.
Not surprisingly, Naipaul's pessimistic opinions are not entirely popular. However, most critics agree that Naipaul possesses a rare gift as an author: he tells the truth, no matter how much it hurts. Following the publication of his acclaimed 1979 novel, "A Bend in the River," Irving Howe characterized the "homeless" literary giant's success: "Whatever we may want in a novelist is to be found in his books: an almost Conradian gift for tensing a story, a serious involvement with human issues, a supple English prose, a hard-edged wit, a personal vision of things." [show less]