When Wole Soyinka won the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, Naipaul had disdainfully asked: “Has he written anything?” Then Naipaul went on to stress that the Nobel committee was pissing on art from a great height!
By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Hate is such a strong word, but the writer known all over the world as V.S. Naipaul was an unrepentant purveyor of hate in his chequered life. Born as Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul on August 17, 1932 in Chaguanas in the then British Trinidad and Tobago, Naipaul had nothing but abject disdain for his homeland. He had Indian parentage but had nothing good whatsoever to say about India or his roots. He was a rootless Third World lackey and coveter of colonial Britain where he lived all his life, save for the travels to Africa, India and much of the Islamic world that served as settings for his trenchant novels and travel writing.
He had his education at University College, Oxford where he suffered depression and attempted suicide. He was helped to survive emotionally and financially by Patricia Ann Hale whom he later married. An evil man, V.S. Naipaul while on a trip to in 1972 started an affair with a married mother of three children, Margaret Murray Gooding. He told his poor wife Patricia that he took to the affair because she was not good in bed! Naipaul shared the affections of both ladies for all of 24 years!
After working catch-as-catch-can with the BBC, London, Naipaul published his first novel, The Mystic Masseur, in 1957, that is a year before Chinua Achebe published Things Fall Apart that ranks amongst the most influential novels in world literature, to wit, more than anything Naipaul achieved with his caustic oeuvre.
His next book was the short novel The Suffrage of Elvira, published in 1958, and dealing comically with local elections in his native Trinidad.
It took him three years to write his best novel, A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961. A very funny recreation of his hapless father in the character of Mohun Biswas as he undertakes jobs as a Hindu priest’s apprentice, a painter of signboards, the owner of a grocery store, and a luckless journalist, A House for Mr Biswas is Naipaul at the height of his powers – penetrating, insightful and comedic.
His 1963 novel, Mr Stone and the Knight’s Companion, is entirely set in Britain with white characters but lacks the gravitas for any critical acclaim.
In 1964 Naipaul turned to travel writing with the publication of The Middle Passage, about his impressions on five societies – the British, French and Dutch in West Indies and South America. According to Naipaul, “History is built around achievement and creation; and nothing was created in the West Indies.”
His next travel book, An Area of Darknesspublished in 1964, depicts his separateness from the India of his parents as he is just “content to be a colonial, without a past, without ancestors.”
Naipaul’s 1967 novel The Mimic Men tells the complicated story of the Indian politician Ralph Singh who is in exile in London much like Naipaul himself.
Naipaul was appointed writer-in-residence in Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda where he reportedly told a student who gave him a manuscript for appraisal that he had a fine handwriting!
The 1971 book of his Ugandan experiences, In A Free State, controversially won the Booker Prize; controversial in that the prize ought to be for full-length novels whilst “In A State” is the title novella of the book.
It was in Kampala, Uganda that Naipaul became friends with the young American writer, Paul Theroux, who was also the friend of the mourned Nigerian poet, Christopher Okigbo, who died in the Nigeria-Biafra war. Paul Theroux reveals in his biographical book on Naipaul that when Wole Soyinka won the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, Naipaul had disdainfully asked: “Has he written anything?” Then Naipaul went on to stress that the Nobel committee was pissing on art from a great height!
Naipaul cannot insult my teacher and hope to receive any praises from me for his provocative writings and utterances. Naipaul belongs to Joseph Conrad’s school of racist writers as blasted by Chinua Achebe in his classic essay, An Image of Africa. In the words of the Nobel Committee while awarding the Nobel Literature Prize to Naipaul in 2001, “Naipaul is Conrad’s heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in the memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.”
Naipaul’s other works of fiction include Guerrillas(1975), A Bend in the River (1979), The Enigma of Arrival (1987), A Way in the World (1994), Half a Life (2001) and Magic Seeds (2004).
His best novel, A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961, is a very funny recreation of his hapless father in the character of Mohun Biswas as he undertakes jobs as a Hindu priest’s apprentice, a painter of signboards, the owner of a grocery store, and a luckless journalist.
He was equally as prolific in the non-fiction genre with several more titles, including The Loss of El Dorado (1969), The Overcrowded Barraccoon and Other Articles (1972), India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981), A Turn in the South(1989), India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990), A Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010) etc.
Naipaul infamously said: “Africa has no future.” Achebe dismissed Naipaul as “the case of a brilliant writer who sold himself to the West.” Edward Said lambasted Naipaul for promoting what he called “colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies.” Derek Walcott tagged Naipaul as “V.S. Nightfall” and dedicated the disparaging poem “The Mongoose” to Naipaul:
I have been bitten, I must avoid infection
Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction
Read his last novels, you’ll see just
what I mean
A lethargy, approaching the obscene
The model is more ho-hum than Dickens
The essays have more bite
They scatter chickens like critics, but
each stabbing phrase is poison
Since he has made that snaring style
The plots are forced, the prose
sedate and silly
The anti-hero is a prick named Willie
Who lacks the conflict of a Waugh or Lawrence
And whines with his creator’s
Naipaul was not a good man. There’s the maxim that one should not speak ill of the dead. But truth must be told. Beyond his writing, the world knows that Naipaul was carousing with his mistress Gooding in worldly travels while his first wife Patricia who helped him to survive early in life was hospitalized and dying of cancer in a London hospital. It took just two months after his wife died for him to jilt Gooding and marry the divorced Pakistani journalist, Nadira, who was well over 20 years younger than Naipaul.
Naipaul died at age 85 on August 1 in his London home. Africa and the Third World would not miss him.