V.S. Naipaul, 1932-2018
"An autobiography can distort; facts can be realigned. But fiction never lies: it reveals the writer totally."
Nobel prize winning writer Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in Trinidad on August 17, 1932. In an interview with The New Yorker in 2008 he spoke disdainfully about his birthplace saying "I was born there, yes. I thought it was a mistake". His paternal grandfather had migrated from India to work as a labourer on sugar plantations. His mother's family had been wealthy landowners but had lost much of their wealth by the time Naipaul and his siblings were born. Naipaul credited his father, a journalist, for introducing him to literature and inspiring his dreams of becoming a writer. He would often escape into books to avoid his parents' volatile relationship. Speaking to The Guardian's Patrick McCrumb he described his family as "terrible…very large, with too many people. There was no beauty. It was full of malice". He left Trinidad with a government scholarship that allowed him to study at any university in the British Commonwealth and chose to attend Oxford. He spent much of the rest of his life in England.
While a student, Naipaul became frustrated by his writing ability and uncertain whether he could to fulfill his dream of writing professionally. As a result he experienced a long period of depression. Patricia Hale, a fellow Oxford student, helped him to recover and worked with him to plan his career, reading all of his work in progress. They married in 1955. It was not a particularly happy marriage. Naipaul engaged in a decades-long affair with Margaret Murray and openly frequented prostitutes during the marriage, which ended with Patricia's death from cancer in 1996. Naipaul proposed to his second wife, journalist Nadira Khannum Alvi, in 1995 and they married shortly after Hale's death. Hale's letters and diaries were used in Patrick French's authorized biography of Naipaul, The World Is What It Is.
During his long career, Naipaul wrote novels, short stories, travel books and non-fiction and he won a number of literary prizes. His first novel The Mystic Masseur, published in 1957, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Miguel Street, a collection of short stories published in 1959 won the Somerset Maugham prize, the first time a non-European author had received the honour. He was given the Booker Prize in 1971 for In a Free State. His 1961 novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, was his breakthrough novel. Modern Library and Time Magazine both included it on their lists of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.
The Nobel Prize was presented to Naipaul in 2006 for "having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories".
In addition, he was knighted for services to literature in 1990.
Naipaul described himself as a curmudgeon who once declared that "[i]f a writer doesn’t generate hostility, he is dead" and was dismissive of other authors: he thought little of Henry James, E.M. Forster, Ernest Hemingway and believed that women writers were naturally inferior. He expressed his dislike of many things including children, Trinidadians, Muslims, immigrants and steel bands.
V.S. Naipaul died peacefully at his home in London. He was 85.