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Monday, November 24, 2008

V.S. Naipaul - A Biography

One of the most celebrated and controversial writers of Indian descent
has had a biography written about him by none other than the English
journalist/writer Patrick French. The New York Times Book Review says
, "French's authorized biography of Mr. Naipaul. It's a handsome
volume, jacketed in silver and black, with a disarming cover
photograph of Mr. Naipaul stooping, with a gap-toothed grin, to tie a
loose shoelace.
Flip Mr. French's book over, however, and you confront this
Voldemortian clump of words from Mr. Naipaul's old nemesis, Mr.
Theroux: "It seems I didn't know half of all the horrors." Cue the
scary organ music.
Well, the reader thinks, here we go: Mr. French's 550-page biography
will be a long string of bummers, a forced march through the life of a
startlingly original writer with an ugly, remote personality.
The good news is that Mr. French, a young British journalist, is
certainly unafraid to face unpleasant facts about his subject. But the
better news about "The World Is What It Is" is this: it's one of the
sprightliest, most gripping, most intellectually curious and, well,
funniest biographies of a living writer (Mr. Naipaul is 76) to come
along in years."
From the Boston Globe Review --
"When he went to Oxford from the Caribbean in 1950, at age 17, V. S.
Naipaul was a British subject of Indian descent who resided in the
West Indies, specifically Trinidad, an "accidental occidental Indian
from the most amusing island that ever dotted the sea," as one wit put
The question of identity is as crucial to Naipaul's books as it was to
the man himself. He wanted to be called not a West Indian, but "a
Trinidadian of Hindu descent." His small size (5 feet 6), dark skin,
and island profile made this brilliant writer a touchy,
class-conscious character all of his life.
To say that Vidia Naipaul was merely complicated seems an
understatement. In his authorized biography "The World Is What It Is,"
Patrick French shows us a man at once "angry, acute, open,
self-pitying, funny, sarcastic, tearful." It is high testament to
French - as well as to the acceding Naipaul - that the writer insisted
on being as impeccably objective as possible and that he chose to
"expose the subject with ruthless clarity."
An asthmatic, Naipaul was the pampered oldest son in a successful
family of girls and one younger brother. He wanted to be wealthy. He
wanted to succeed. "I like luxury," he said. "I take to it easily, and
feel it is mine by right." This ambitious fellow, who would eventually
receive a knighthood, become a multimillionaire, and win the Nobel
Prize for Literature, knew early that he was meant for larger things,
and as French puts it, he certainly "did not want to be classified
alongside people who climbed off banana boats wearing zoot-suits and
wanted jobs in factories."
An admitted snob, Naipaul was at odds not only with the Third World
but with pop entertainment, pop politics, pop lifestyles. "He detested
hippies, yippies, beatniks, free school, flower power, Black Power,
flag burning, hair growing, sit-ins, be-ins, teach-ins and love-ins,"
states French. He bewailed the attention the Beatles received,
angering many readers of the Saturday Evening Post when in an essay,
"What's Wrong With Being a Snob?," he lamented that "entertainers from
the slums [have] replaced the Queen as a cause for national pride."
Moreover, Naipaul was famously frugal. He did his own accounts and
bookkeeping (with his first wife's help) and was more than happy when
possible to take advantage of offers for extended stays in various
friends' houses or flats to save money."
The New York Times Review is at this link --
The Boston Globe Review is at this link--
The First Chapter of the biography is available at this link --

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