V.S Naipaul-The Great Writer

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Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born on 17 August 1932 (age 83) in Chaguanas on the island of  Trinidad, which is the larger of the the two islands in the British crown colony of Trinidad and Tobago.


In the 1880s, his grandparents emigrated from India to work as indentured servants in Trinidad’s sugar plantations.  As a result of the Great Famine of 1876–78 and similar calamities in India, the Naipauls were part of a larger Indian emigration to Trinidad, Fiji, Guyana, Suriname, and other outposts of the British Empire.

He was the second child and first son born to mother Droapatie  and father Seepersad Naipaul. The Naipauls believed themselves to be the descendants Hindu Brahmins.

In the largely peasant Indian immigrant community in Trinidad, Naipaul’s father became an English-language journalist. In 1929, he began contributing articles to the Trinidad Guardian, in 1932, the year Naipaul was born, his father joined the staff as the Chaguanas correspondent. In “A prologue to an autobiography” (1983), Naipaul describes his father’s reverence for writers and aspirations to become a writer. In January 1955, V.S Naipaul married to Patricia Ann Hale ( Pat ) from 1955 until her death in 1996. She worked with Naipaul as his  first reader, editor, and critic of his writings.

Education & Career

In 1939, when he was seven years old, Naipaul’s family moved to Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, where Naipaul enrolled in the government-run Queen’s Royal College, a well-regarded school that was modeled after a British public school. Upon graduation, Naipaul won a Trinidad Government scholarship that allowed him to study at any institution of higher learning in the British Commonwealth; he chose Oxford, where he intended to study English. In August 1950, he flew to New York, and next day embarked to London by ship. Notes and letters from that time would become the basis for the chapter “Journey” in his novel “The Enigma Of Arrival”, written 37 years later.

At Oxford, Naipaul judged himself adequately prepared for his studies;  in the judgment of his Latin tutor, Peter Bayley, Naipaul showed promise and poise. Though he realized that he is good at writing but he was lonely and unsure of his ability then he became depressed. In April of 1952, he took an impulsive trip to Spain, where he quickly spent all money he  had saved. He called his impulsive trip “a nervous breakdown.” Then thirty years later, he called it “something like a mental illness.”

In 1952, prior to visiting Spain, Naipaul met Patricia Ann Hale, his future wife, at a college play. With Hale’s support, Naipaul began to recover and gradually he started writing. She became a partner in planning his career.  In June 1953, Naipaul and Hale graduated from Oxford.  Soon after his luck favored a bit and J. R. R. Tolkien, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, judged Naipaul’s Anglo-Saxon paper the best in the university.

In 1953, Naipaul’s father had had a coronary thrombosis and lost his job at the Guardian. In October of same year, his father died. Naipaul’s prospects for employment in frugal post-war Britain were unpromising and his applications to jobs overseas were repeatedly rejected and his attempts at writing were not going worthful. He worked  few odd jobs and borrowed money too from Pat and his family in Trinidad. He reluctantly enrolled for a B. Litt. post-graduate degree at Oxford in English Literature, but he failed his first B. Litt. exam, and his viva voce (in February 1954)did not go well. He was failed overall for the B. Litt. degree. His hope of being supported for academic studies at Oxford ended. And finally Naipaul would later say that he “hated Oxford.”

In 1954 Naipaul moved to London. In December of that year, Henry Swanzy, the producer of a BBC weekly program called Caribbean Voices, hired Naipaul as presenter.  Naipaul stayed in the part-time job for four years. At the BBC, Naipaul appeared on Caribbean Voices once a week, wrote short reviews, and conducted interviews.

Known For

V.S Naipaul is known for his extraordinary talent and immense contribution in the field of literature. He wrote several magnificent novels on his own experience of wide travelling and intellect, depicting the artistic beauty of his work, which made him win numerous honours. V.S. Naipaul is a Trinidadian-British writer of Indian descent known for his novels set in developing countries. He won the Nobel Prize in 2001 for his novel, Half a Life.

Naipaul published his first book in the late 1950s, but he couldn’t fetch out good money for him or his publisher, André Deutsch Limited. In the summer of 1955, Naipaul wrote “Bogart“, a 3000-word story inspired by his  neighbour  in Port of Spain.

In 1955, Naipaul without any enthusiasm wrote “The Mystic Masseur”, after being encouraged by his future publisher André Deutsch. It is a comic novel, first published by Andre Deutsch in 1957, about a frustrated writer who want to become a successful politician. 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.

In 1958, he wrote another comic novel “The suffrage of Elvira”, published by Andre Deutsch. It is also a comic novel which describes the slapstick circumstances of local election and political changes in one of the districts in Trinidad and how it is affecting various ethnic groups.

In 1959, Naipaul produced his fourth fiction bookMiguel Street” consisting of several stories with colourful characters, each one dealing with a single character living on the Miguel Street in Port of Spain, Trinidad. “Bogart,” was the first story of Miguel Street. Later on  Miguel Street won the 1961 Somerset Maugham Award.

In 1961, Naipaul produced his masterpiece “A House for Mr Biswas “. The most significant work and is credited with launching him into international market. After writing this book Naipaul reckoned as one of the finest writers in the English language. This book was also published by Andre Deutsch. This book tells the story of unlucky Mohun Biswas, an Indo-Trinidadian who has the only goal of owning his own house. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked “A House for Mr Biswas” number 72 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its “TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005”.

In 1963, he wrote Mr Stone and the Knights Companion”  His first novel set in England. It won the Hawthornden Prize.

After having travelled long enough in the 1960s and early 1970s in countries like India, South-America, Africa, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and the USA, Naipaul produced numerous works of non-fiction including three books about India: “An Area of Darkness” in 1964, “A Wounded Civilization” in 1977, and  “A Million Mutinies” in 1990, and two books about Islamic societies, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey in 1981 and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions” in 1998.

In 1962, he launched his first non-fiction book “The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America about the Caribbean in which he described a year-long trip through Trinidad, British Guiana, Suriname, Martinique and Jamaica. You can see the list of his complete work in the end.

Naipaul’s literary awards

  • He received the Nobel Prize in 2001 for his novel “Half a Life”,a story about an Indian immigrant to England and Africa.
  • In 1993 he won the first David Cohen British Literature Prize for “lifetime achievement by a living British writer”.
  • He was knighted in 1989
  • In 1971, The Booker Prize for“In a Free State” 
  • In 1968, WH Smith Literary Award for “The Mimic Men”
  • In 1964, Hawthornden Prize for “Mr Stone and the Knights Companion”
  • In 1961, Somerset Maugham Award for “Miguel Street”
  • In 1958, Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for “The Mystic Masseur”
  • Naipaul’s manuscripts and extensive archives have been deposited in the University of Tulsa.
  • He holds honorary doctorates from Cambridge University and Columbia University in New York, and honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford.

List of his works with Publisher

  • 2007 A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling, Picador
  • 2004 Magic Seeds, Picador
  • 2004 Literary Occasions, Picador
  • 2002 The Writer and the World: Essays, Picador
  • 2001 Half a Life, Picador
  • 2000 Reading and Writing: A Personal Account, New York Review of Books
  • 1999 Letters Between a Father and Son, Little, Brown
  • 1998 Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions, Little, Brown
  • 1997 Letters, Little, Brown
  • 1994 A Way in the World, Heinemann
  • 1990 India: A Million Mutinies Now, Heinemann
  • 1989 A Turn in the South, Viking
  • 1987 The Enigma of Arrival, André Deutsch
  • 1984 Finding the Centre, André Deutsch
  • 1981 Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, André Deutsch
  • 1980 The Return of Eva Peron; and The Killings in Trinidad, André Deutsch
  • 1980 A Congo Diary, André Deutsch
  • 1979 A Bend in the River, André Deutsch
  • 1977 The Perfect Tenants; and The Mourners, Cambridge University Press
  • 1977 India: A Wounded Civilization, André Deutsch
  • 1975 Guerrillas, André Deutsch
  • 1972 The Overcrowded Barracoon and Other Articles, André Deutsch
  • 1971 In a Free State, André Deutsch
  • 1969 The Loss of El Dorado: A History, André Deutsch
  • 1967 The Mimic Men, André Deutsch
  • 1967 A Flag on the Island, André Deutsch
  • 1964 An Area of Darkness, André Deutsch
  • 1963 Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, André Deutsch
  • 1962 The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America, André Deutsch
  • 1961 A House for Mr Biswas, André Deutsch
  • 1959 Miguel Street, André Deutsch
  • 1958 The Suffrage of Elvira, André Deutsch
  • 1957 The Mystic Masseur, André Deutsch