Reading and Writing: A Personal Account

Overview

I was eleven, no more, when the wish came to me to be a writer; and then very soon it was a settled ambition. But for the young V. S. Naipaul, there was a great distance between the wish and its fulfillment. To become a writer, he would have to find ways of understanding three very different cultures: his family's half-remembered Indian homeland, the West Indian colonial society in which he grew up, and the wholly foreign world of the English novels he read.

In this essay of ...

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Overview

I was eleven, no more, when the wish came to me to be a writer; and then very soon it was a settled ambition. But for the young V. S. Naipaul, there was a great distance between the wish and its fulfillment. To become a writer, he would have to find ways of understanding three very different cultures: his family's half-remembered Indian homeland, the West Indian colonial society in which he grew up, and the wholly foreign world of the English novels he read.

In this essay of literary autobiography, V. S. Naipaul sifts through memories of his childhood in Trinidad, his university days in England, and his earliest attempts at writing, seeking the experiences of life and reading that shaped his imagination and his growth as a writer. He pays particular attention to the traumas of India under its various conquerors and the painful sense of dereliction and loss that shadows writers' attempts to capture the country and its people in prose.

Naipaul's profound reflections on the relations between personal or historical experience and literary form, between the novel and the world, reveal how he came to discover both his voice and the subjects of his writing, and how he learned to turn sometimes to fiction, sometimes to the travel narrative, to portray them truthfully. Along the way he offers insights into the novel's prodigious development as a form for depicting and interpreting society in the nineteenth century and its diminishing capacity to do the same in the twentiethÑa task that, in his view, passed to the creative energies of the early cinema.

As a child trying to read, I had felt that two worlds separated me from the books that were offered to me at school and in the libraries: the childhood world of our remembered India, and the more colonial world of our city. ... What I didn't know, even after I had written my early books of fiction ... was that those two spheres of darkness had become my subject. Fiction, working its mysteries, by indirections finding directions out, had led me to my subject. But it couldn't take me all the way. -V.S. Naipaul, from Reading & Writing

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Naipaul started his literary career writing comic novels set in Trinidad. Then he progressed to probing travel narratives. Recently, he published correspondence with his family (Between Father and Son: Family Letters, LJ 1/00). This slim volume, which contains two essays that originally appeared in 1999 in the New York Review of Books, traces his evolution as a writer. In the first essay, he reflects on the various literary influences and circumstances that shaped his career. In the second, he ruminates on what prevented him from writing a novel set in India, the land of his forebears. When he argues that "fiction works best in a confined moral and cultural area where the rules are generally known," Naipaul suggests that the heyday of the novel is long past. Naipaul writes with clarity, and his arguments are persuasive; one wishes that he had expanded further on his literary theories. Recommended for comprehensive collections of Naipaul's writings.--Ravi Shenoy, North Central Coll. Lib., Naperville, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Laura Ciolkowski
Naipaul elegantly expresses hard-earned wisdom about literature and culture, the political stakes of history and the relationship between the writer and the world.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780940322387
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 1,218,118
  • Product dimensions: 5.71 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

V. S. Naipaul
V. S. Naipaul
In awarding V. S. Naipaul the Nobel prize for literature in 2001, the Swedish Academy called him a "literary circumnavigator" and a "modern philosophe." Both tags seem spot-on, given Naipaul's gift for describing -- in both his fictional and nonfictional studies of India, Africa, and beyond -- the humor and pathos of cultural collisions.

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.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Wiltshire, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 17, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chaguanas, Trinidad
    1. Education:
      Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, 1943-48; B.A., University College, Oxford, 1953

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