Literary Occasions: Essays

Literary Occasions: Essays

by V. S. Naipaul

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Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul brings his signature gifts of observation, his ferocious impatience with received truths, and his masterfully condensed prose to these eleven essays on reading, writing, and identity—which have been brought together for the first time.Here the subject is Naipaul’s literary evolution: the books that delighted him as a

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Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul brings his signature gifts of observation, his ferocious impatience with received truths, and his masterfully condensed prose to these eleven essays on reading, writing, and identity—which have been brought together for the first time.Here the subject is Naipaul’s literary evolution: the books that delighted him as a child; the books he wrote as a young man; the omnipresent predicament of trying to master an essentially metropolitan, imperial art form as an Asian colonial from a New World plantation island. He assesses Joseph Conrad, the writer most frequently cited as his forebear, and, in his celebrated Nobel Lecture, “Two Worlds,” traces the full arc of his own career. Literary Occasions is an indispensable addition to the Naipaul oeuvre, penetrating, elegant, and affecting.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
No other living writer is able as brilliantly as V. S. Naipaul both to clarify and to enhance the mystery of writing. And yet Literary Occasions constitutes anything but a fairy tale of success. Rather, it is a complex testament not only to the struggle of one man against great odds to be ''that noble thing,'' but also to the place and purpose of the writer in the world: the ''triumph over darkness.'' — Lynn Freed
Publishers Weekly
One imagines many readers are still absorbing The Writer and the World, Naipaul's magisterial collection of deeply opinionated global political reports and cultural meditations that was released last August, covering the last four decades of the Nobel laureate's nonfiction work. The paperback of Writer pubs a month before this book, which collects Naipaul's literary prose, a mixed bag including everything from reminiscences of his laconic childhood approach toward writing to his 1983 foreword to his celebrated 1961 novel, A House for Mr. Biswas. Indeed, the most substantial piece here, "Prologue to an Autobiography," is also 20 years old and also previously published, as are the other 10 entries here. All touch on Naipaul's Trinidadian upbringing and coming-of-age or his adult writing life in one way or another; together, they form a literary autobiography that has its apotheosis in the most recent piece, Naipaul's 2001 Nobel lecture, "Two Worlds," which notes, "When I began I had no idea of the way ahead. I wished only to do a book." He has done many; this book is for readers interested in their sources. (Sept. 7) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Literature is the sum of its discoveries," writes Naipaul in "Reading and Writing," one of ten essays in the Nobel laureate's most recent work. This collection, which includes "Two Worlds" (the Nobel lecture) and the foreword to A House for Mr. Biswas, reflects an extraordinary life influenced by the desire to write and to understand the impact of literature-in essence, a collection of Naipaul's discoveries about his history, culture, and existence as an outsider. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932 of East Indian parentage and after graduating from Oxford in the mid-1950s relentlessly pursued his desire to be a writer-a desire born in large part of his father's influence. The role of Naipaul's father, himself a news writer, is just one of many themes that bind the essays together to provide some insight into what it meant to be "a little ridiculous and unlikely" and to be East Indian in Trinidad. The themes of cultural purity, cultural confusion, and the impact of colonialism are always present. The literary impact of such novelists as Conrad and Kipling highlight the cultural tension Naipaul often describes in his stories. This diverse collection allows the reader to gain a better understanding of the complex web of themes that permeate Naipaul's work. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries, especially as a complement to Naipaul's previous works.-Valeda F. Dent, Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This miscellany of essays and reviews is a pendant to the 2001 Nobel laureate's recent Between Father and Son: Family Letters (2000) and The Writer and the World (2002). The contents, introduced and edited by novelist Pankaj Mishra, appear in microcosm in the 1998 prologue, "Reading and Writing," which briefly surveys Naipaul's upbringing in his native Trinidad, accession to understanding of his family's Indian heritage, and early literary enthusiasms and efforts. Further information (and, unfortunately, numbing repetition) appears in three personal essays capped by a lengthy, fascinating "Fragment of an Autobiography" (1982), which is very informative about the use Naipaul made of neighbors and acquaintances as models for characters in his first book, Miguel Street, and the powerful influence of his father Seepersad, a hardworking journalist and modestly gifted writer of short stories whose inability to realize his literary goals condemned him to increasing and debilitating "hysteria . . . [and] fear of extinction." There follow forewords to his father's single published book and to a later edition of Naipual's 1961 masterpiece A House for Mr. Biswas. Next, thoughtful reviews of "Indian Autobiographies" (including Mohandas Ghandi's) and of a new biography of Rudyard Kipling (whom Naipaul greatly admired), followed by "Conrad's Darkness and Mine," a penetrating analysis of the blending of romance and realism in the work of the writer to whom Naipaul is perhaps most indebted and akin. Finally, a postscript consisting of Naipaul's Nobel acceptance speech ("Two Worlds"), which repeats biographical details already present in preceding pages, but does re-emphasize the outsider's "caste sense"that made him feel alienated from the "worlds" of literary culture and a career-long reliance on "intuition" as opposed to agendas or ideologies ("I have no guiding political idea"). The writing is, as expected, consistently eloquent and astute-but even sympathetic readers will grow weary of hammer-blow repetitions of the same central points. Naipaul is still Naipaul. But he isn't especially well served by a very uneven volume that really seems to have been hastily assembled rather than carefully edited.
From the Publisher
“He brings to [nonfiction] an extraordinary capacity for making art out of lucid thought. . . . I can no longer imagine the world without Naipaul’s writing.” —Vivian Gornick, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“[Naipaul] has a genius for noticing, a genius for freezing the instant when meaning is born from the accidents of the everyday. . . . Each sentence pounces on its meaning, neat as a cat.” —The New York Review of Books

“It is altogether tonic to have a writer such as V. S. Naipaul in our midst.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Fascinating. . . . Poignant. . . . He shows an almost scientific precocity at being an observer and historian of his family’s life. . . . A lean little guidebook to the making of a Nobel laureate.” —The Miami Herald

“[Literary Occasions] shed[s] light on Naipaul’s intellectual evolution and on the source of his social insight, his humor, and his gentle melancholy.” —The Boston Globe

“Splendid. . . . Affecting. . . . The perfect complement to Naipaul’s volume of travel and political essays, The Writer and the World.” —The Oregonian

“[A] gift to the reading and writing public. . . . Literary Occasions is . . . an ideal place to make one’s first acquaintance with Naipaul’s literary universe.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Deeply affecting. . . . Personally revealing. . . . Thoughtful clarity . . . characterizes all his prose.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Fascinating. . . . Naipaul truly is a writer for the world.” —The Tennessean

“Nuanced, personal. . . . Naipaul’s prose is a perfect combination of lucidity, elegance and gloom.” —The Telegraph (Calcutta, India)

“Naipaul’s essays play an important part in understanding this remarkable writer. . . . Those already familiar with his work will find their understanding greatly enhanced by these essays.” —The Sunday Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)

“Superbly written. . . . [Naipaul is] a gifted and articulate writer whose prose, comments, and analysis force readers to closely inspect their own ideas.” —Nashville City Paper

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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From a master of the English language–winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature–a collection of essays about reading, writing, and identity.
In these eleven pieces–brought together for the first time–Naipaul charts more than half a century of personal inquiry into the mysteries of written expression and of fiction in particular. Here are his boyhood experiences of reading books and his first youthful efforts at writing them; the early glimmers and the evolution of ideas about the proper relation of particular literary forms to particular cultures and identities. Here, too, is Naipaul’s famous comment on his putative literary forebear Conrad, and a less familiar but no less intriguing preface to the only book Naipaul’s father ever published. Finally, in his celebrated Nobel Lecture, “Two Worlds,” Naipaul reflects on the full scope of his career, rounding off the volume as an intellectual autobiography. Sustained by extraordinary powers of expression and thought, Literary Occasions is a stirring contribution to the fading art of the critic, and a revelation as well of a life in letters, in its many exemplary instances.

Author Biography: V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including Half a Life, A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and a collection of letters, Between Father and Son. In 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Meet the Author

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at Oxford he began to write, and since then he has followed no other profession. He is the author of more than twenty-five books of fiction and nonfiction and the recipient of numerous honors, including the Nobel Prize in 2001, the Booker Prize in 1971, and a knighthood for services to literature in 1990. He lives in Wiltshire, England.

Brief Biography

Wiltshire, England
Date of Birth:
August 17, 1932
Place of Birth:
Chaguanas, Trinidad
Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, 1943-48; B.A., University College, Oxford, 1953

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