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Naipaul, V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad)

indian caribbean won major

(Trinidadian, 1932– )

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad, into an Indian Brahmin family. He is much admired abroad and much criticized in the Anglophone Caribbean where his characterization of Caribbean people is seen to be one-dimensional. But few deny that he is a major writer. His masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas (1961), is the fullest portrait we have of a East Indian family in the process of creolization. This is sometimes contrasted with his portraits of African characters who are generally seen from the outside and made figures of fun. A Bend in the River (1979), set in a Conrad-like Africa, bears this out. But then again when, in an early book, Naipaul trained his sharp eye for comic detail on the residents of a Port of Spain yard, the resulting Miguel Street (1959) was exemplary.

Naipaul has won many awards for his writing (including the Booker Prize for In a Free State, 1971), and the elegance of his ‘phrase-making’ is universally acknowledged—a quality also evident in his extensive non-fiction. This includes history, autobiography, travel (three books on India), and literary journalism. In The Enigma of Arrival (1987), a semi-autobiographical novel, Naipaul deals with a charge levelled against him that he is a professional outsider—in Trinidad, in England, in India—and that, whatever the personal cost, this grants him sharper insights than might be afforded the insider. His most recent novel, Half a Life (2001), tackles a similar theme, through the story of young Willie Chandran, an Indian trying to make a home in post-war London. The dust-jacket for this book boasted ‘He has won every major literary award bar the Nobel'; that oversight was soon rectified—he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

Joseph Conrad, Shiva Naipaul, Neil Bissoondath. See CARIBBEAN  EM

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