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V. S. Naipaul (Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul) Biography

(1932– ), (Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul), The Mystic Masseur, The Suffrage of Elvira, Miguel Street

Trinidadian novelist and travel writer, born in Trinidad, educated at Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, and at University College, Oxford. After graduation, Naipaul remained in England where he became known as a witty and satirical novelist through such works as The Mystic Masseur (1957), a story of religious and political charlatanism: The Suffrage of Elvira (1958), an account of electioneering trickery and fraudulence; and Miguel Street (1959), fictional sketches that expose absurdities of life in colonial Trinidad. A longer novel, A House for Mr Biswas (1961), won Naipaul acclaim both for its study of colonial displacement and disorder, and for its insight into twentieth-century alienation. Other works, such as The Mimic Men (1967) and In a Free State (1971; Booker Prize), confirmed Naipaul's reputation as a major novelist. But while his reputation rose in Europe and the USA, Naipaul became increasingly vilified in the Caribbean and Third World countries for his unflattering portraits of colonial disorder and despair, both in his fiction as well as in such non-fictional works as The Middle Passage (1962), in which the assertion that ‘nothing was ever created in the West Indies’ achieved wide notoriety. An Area of Darkness (1964) and India: A Wounded Civilisation (1977) are travel books considered hostile to India, but in his third book on the country, India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990), his tone is more mellow, allowing Indians wide scope to speak for themselves. Some of his other notable works include Guerillas (1975), a bleak novel which culminates in a squalid ‘revolutionary’ murder; A Bend in the River (1979), where he echoes Conrad with regard to modern Africa: and Enigma of Arrival (1987), set in the English countryside, obliquely autobiographical, and his most introspective novel. A Way in the World (1994) is a novel composed of nine interlinked sections which draw together, in many voices, narratives of personal experience, aspects of history, and socio-political factors. It combines Naipaul's imaginary and documentary approaches, unified by the theme of Trinidad and its place in the Caribbean. The Overcrowded Barracoon (1972) and The Return of Eva Peron (1980) are collections of essays and articles. He has received numerous awards, including the Trinity Cross, Trinidad's highest award, and a knighthood in Britain. Even those who do not admire the views and attitudes in Naipaul's writing admire its technical distinction, lucid analysis, and freedom from cant and hypocrisy. It is the unsparing honesty of his writing that is regarded as harshness and hostility in some quarters. Yet Naipaul's study of Caribbean homelessness and insecurity is consistent and authentic, and is increasingly accepted as a perceptive examination of the central preoccupations of our time.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mr Polly to New France