Vidiadhar Surajprasad 'V.S.' Naipaul, was an Indo-Caribbean writer born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, to which his grandfathers had emigrated from India as indentured servants. Naipaul is known for the wistfully comic early novels of Trinidad, the bleaker novels of a wider world remade by the passage of peoples, and the vigilant chronicles of his life and travels, all written in characteristic, widely admired, prose.
Early life and education
Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad on 17 August 1932, the eldest son of a second-generation Indian. He was educated at Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, and, after winning a government scholarship (1950), in England at University College, Oxford. He worked briefly for the BBC as a writer and editor for the 'Caribbean Voices' programme.
His first three books are comic portraits of Trinidadian society. The Mystic Masseur (1957) won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1958 and was adapted as a film with a screenplay by Caryl Phillips in 2001. Miguel Street (1959), a collection of short stories, won a Somerset Maugham Award. His acclaimed novel A House for Mr Biswas (1961), is based on his father's life in Trinidad. His first novel set in England, Mr Stone and the Knights Companion (1963), won the Hawthornden Prize.
Subsequent novels developed more political themes and he began to write about colonial and post-colonial societies in the process of decolonisation. These novels include The Mimic Men (1967), winner of the 1968 WH Smith Literary Award, In a Free State (1971), which won the Booker Prize for Fiction, Guerrillas (1975) and A Bend in the River (1979), set in Africa. The Enigma of Arrival (1987) is a personal account of his life in England. A Way in the World (1994), is a formally experimental narrative that combines fiction and non-fiction in a historical portrait of the Caribbean. Half a Life, was published in 2001 and follows the adventures of Indian Willie Chandran in post-war Britain, a new life initiated by a chance encounter between his father and the novelist W. Somerset Maugham. Magic Seeds (2004) continues his story.
V. S. Naipaul is also the author of a number of works of non-fiction including three books about India: An Area of Darkness (1964), India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990), and two books about Islamic societies, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981) and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions (1998). He has written about the Caribbean in The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies - British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America (1962) and The Loss of El Dorado: A History (1969), and has published two collections of essays, The Overcrowded Barracoon and Other Articles (1972) and The Return of Eva Peron (1980). The Writer and the World: Essays, was published in 2002: Literary Occasions (2004), is a further collection of essays. His latest book is A Writer's People: Ways of Looking and Feeling (2007).
Honours and awards
V. S. Naipaul was knighted in 1989. He was awarded the David Cohen British Literature Prize by the Arts Council of England in 1993.
In 2001, V. S. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.
He held honorary doctorates from Cambridge University and Columbia University in New York, and honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford. He lives in Wiltshire, England.
Patricia Ann Hale, whom Naipaul married in 1955, served until her death 41 years later (1996) as first reader, editor, and critic of his writings. To her, in 2011, Naipaul dedicated his breakthrough novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, of a half-century before.
Two months after Hale died, Naipaul married his second wife, Pakistani newspaper columnist Nadira Khannum Alvi.
V. S. Naipaul died Saturday, 11 August 2018 at his London home. He was 85.
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