About Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad "V. S." Naipaul, Nobel Prize in Literature 2001
Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad "V. S." Naipaul, TC (born 17 August 1932) is a Nobel prize-winning Indo-Trinidadian-British writer who is known for his novels focusing on the legacy of the British Empire's colonialism. He has also written works of non-fiction, such as travel writing and essays.
Naipaul has been called "a master of modern English prose" in The New York Review of Books and has been awarded numerous literary prizes including the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (1958), the Somerset Maugham Award (1960), the Hawthornden Prize (1964), the W. H. Smith Literary Award (1968), the Booker Prize (1971), the Jerusalem Prize (1983) and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in British Literature (1993).
In 2001, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2008, The Times ranked Naipaul seventh on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago, to parents of Indian descent. He is the son, older brother, uncle, and cousin of published authors Seepersad Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Neil Bissoondath, and Vahni Capildeo, respectively. His current wife is Nadira Naipaul, a former Pakistani journalist.
Naipaul was married to Englishwoman Patricia Hale for 41 years, until her death due to cancer in 1996. According to an authorised biography by Patrick French, the two shared a close relationship when it came to Naipaul's work—Pat was a sort of unofficial editor for Naipaul—but the marriage was not a happy one in other respects. Naipaul regularly visited prostitutes in London, and later had a long-term abusive affair with another married woman, Margaret Gooding, which his wife was aware of.
Prior to Hale's death, Naipaul proposed to Nadira Naipaul, a divorced Pakistani journalist, born Nadira Khannum Alvi. They were married two months after Hale's death, at which point Naipaul also abruptly ended his affair with Gooding. Nadira Naipaul had worked as a journalist for the Pakistani newspaper, The Nation, for ten years before meeting Naipaul. She was divorced twice before her marriage to Naipaul and has two children from a previous marriage, Maliha Naipaul and Nadir.
She is the sister of Maj Gen (Retd) Amir Faisal Alvi, a former chief of the Special Service Group – Pakistan Army, who was later assassinated during the War in North-West Pakistan.
Naipaul insists that his writing transcends any particular ideological outlook, remarking that "to have a political view is to be prejudiced. I don't have a political view." His supporters often perceive him as offering a mordant critique of many left-liberal pieties while his detractors, such as critic Edward Said and poet Derek Walcott accuse him of being a neo-colonial apologist. He has also excoriated Tony Blair as a "pirate" at the head of "a socialist revolution", a man who was "destroying the idea of civilisation in this country" and had created "a plebeian culture".
In his book dealing with the influence of Islam on non-Arab Muslims, Beyond Belief: Islamic excursions among the converted peoples, Naipaul states the following about Islam:
The cruelty of Islamic fundamentalism is that it allows to only one people—the Arabs, the original people of the Prophet—a past, and sacred places, pilgrimages and earth reverences. These sacred Arab places have to be the sacred places of all the converted peoples. Converted peoples have to strip themselves of their past; of converted peoples nothing is required but the purest faith (if such a thing can be arrived at), Islam, submission. It is the most uncompromising kind of imperialism.
Naipaul attracted media controversy with statements about women he made in a May 2011 interview at the Royal Geographic Society, expressing his view that women's writing was inferior to men's, and that there was no female writer whom he would consider his equal. Naipaul stated that women's writing was "quite different", reflecting women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". He had previously criticised leading female Indian authors writing about the legacy of colonialism for the "banality" of their work.
In awarding Naipaul the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, the Swedish Academy praised his work "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories." The Committee added, "Naipaul is a modern philosophe carrying on the tradition that started originally with Lettres persanes and Candide. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired, he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony." The Committee also noted Naipaul's affinity with the novelist Joseph Conrad:
Naipaul is Conrad's heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in the memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.
His fiction and especially his travel writing have been criticised for their allegedly unsympathetic portrayal of the Third World. Literary critic Edward Said, for example, argues that Naipaul "allowed himself quite consciously to be turned into a witness for the Western prosecution", promoting what Said classifies as "colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies". Said believes that Naipaul's worldview may be most salient in the author's book-length essay The Middle Passage, which Naipaul composed after returning to the Caribbean after ten years of exile in England, and the work An Area of Darkness.
Writing in the New York Review of Books about Naipaul, Joan Didion offers the following portrayal of the writer:
The actual world has for Naipaul a radiance that diminishes all ideas of it. The pink haze of the bauxite dust on the first page of Guerrillas tells us what we need to know about the history and social organization of the unnamed island on which the action takes place, tells us in one image who runs the island and for whose profit the island is run and at what cost to the life of the island this profit has historically been obtained, but all of this implicit information pales in the presence of the physical fact, the dust itself... The world Naipaul sees is of course no void at all: it is a world dense with physical and social phenomena, brutally alive with the complications and contradictions of actual human endeavour... This world of Naipaul's is in fact charged with what can only be described as a romantic view of reality, an almost unbearable tension between the idea and the physical fact...
Naipaul has mentioned some negative aspects of Islam in his works, such as nihilism among fundamentalists. He has been quoted describing the bringing down of the Babri Mosque as a "creative passion," and the invasion of Babur in the 16th century as a "mortal wound." He views Vijayanagar, which fell in 1565, as the 'last bastion of native Hindu civilisation'. He bitingly condemned Pakistan in Among the Believers.
He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1990. In 1993 Naipaul was awarded the British David Cohen Prize for Literature.
In 1998 a controversial memoir by Naipaul's sometime protégé Paul Theroux was published. The book provides a personal, though occasionally caustic portrait of Naipaul. The memoir, entitled Sir Vidia's Shadow, was precipitated by a falling-out between the two men a few years earlier. Theroux supposedly blamed Naipaul's second wife, Nadira Naipaul, for driving the two apart.
In early 2007, V. S. Naipaul made a long-awaited return to his homeland of Trinidad. He urged citizens to shrug off the notions of "Indian" and "African" and to concentrate on being "Trinidadian". In 2008, writer Patrick French released the first authorised biography of Naipaul, which was serialised in The Daily Telegraph.
See also: "V. S. Naipaul - Photo Gallery". Nobelprize.org.
Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, Nobel Prize in Literature 2001's Timeline
August 17, 1932
Chaguanas, Trinidad & Tobago