Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul dies at 85

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Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, a Nobel laureate and author born in Trinidad (better known as V.S. Naipaul) has died.

In a statement published on the BBC, the family said Naipaul passed away peacefully at his London home on Saturday 11th August 2018. He was 85.

Born in Chaguanas, Trinidad on August 17th 1932, Naipaul has published more than 30 books over five decades, ranging from comic novels set in Trinidad and Tobago to memoir and travel writing.

His 1961 novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, is seen by many critics as his most important works. The book was based on the life of his father Seepersad, who was a reporter for the Trinidad Guardian.

When he was six his family moved to the country’s capital, Port of Spain. It would later become the setting for his first novel.

The Mystic Masseur was Naipaul's first novel published in 1957
The Mystic Masseur was Naipaul’s first novel published in 1957

In 1948 he won a government scholarship to read English at Oxford’s University College, where he suffered a nervous breakdown.

He married Patricia Hale, whom he met at Oxford in 1955. She died in 1996 and he went on to marry Lady Nadira, shortly afterward.

Of the Nobel Laureate after his passing, his wife, Lady Naipaul said:

“He was a giant in all that he achieved and he died surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavour.”

Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.” Other honours awarded to him throughout his life included the Booker Prize in 1971, the David Cohen Literature Prize in 1993 and a knighthood from the Queen in 1990.

About Naipaul, the New York Times Associated Press reports: Although his writing was widely praised for its compassion toward the destitute and the displaced, Naipaul himself offended many with his arrogant behavior and jokes about former subjects of empire.

Among his widely quoted comments: He called India a “slave society,” quipped that Africa has no future, and explained that Indian women wear a colored dot on their foreheads to say “my head is empty.” He laughed off the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie as “an extreme form of literary criticism.”

In later years, he would repeatedly reject his birthplace as little more than a plantation.

“I was born there, yes,” he said of Trinidad to an interviewer in 1983. “I thought it was a great mistake.”

The critic Terry Eagleton once said of Naipaul: “Great art, dreadful politics,” while Caribbean Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott complained that the author’s prose was tainted by his “repulsion towards Negroes.”

C. L. R. James, a fellow Trinidadian writer, put it differently: Naipaul’s views, he wrote, simply reflected “what the whites want to say but dare not.”


This post will be updated as soon as more information becomes available