Nobel-winning novelist dies at 85

Nobel Prize-winning novelist V.S. Naipaul has died at the age of 85 as reported by Britain's Press Association, citing Naipaul's wife.

Posted: Aug 13, 2018 11:55 AM
Updated: Aug 13, 2018 12:04 PM

On October 10, 1953, V.S. Naipaul sent a telegram home to his family in Trinidad. At that time, Naipaul was an indigent student at University College, Oxford; he had arrived in England on a scholarship and had begun writing brief pieces for the BBC's Caribbean Voices program. Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001, died Saturday in London at the age of 85.

On that day in October 1953, Naipaul was only 21 years old and he had just received the news of his father's death. His telegram read:

= HE WAS THE BEST MAN I KNEW STOP EVERYTHING I OWE TO HIM BE BRAVE MY LOVES TRUST ME = VIDO

Naipaul didn't go home; he wouldn't, in fact, return until several more years had passed. But he paid homage to his father by making him the central character of his fourth novel, "A House for Mr Biswas," which is regarded by many as one of the greatest novels written in English. Like Mr Biswas in the novel, Naipaul's father had been born poor. He struggled to discover a vocation and, for a while, succeeded as a journalist.

The elder Naipaul dreamed of becoming a writer, and didn't quite see his ambition fulfilled. The achievement of putting words down on the page, the ambition and also the anxiety, was a central theme in the novel. (Every time he puts a sheet in the typewriter, Mr. Biswas types out the following: "At the age of thirty-three, when he was already the father of four children...." The half-finished sentence lights up a whole dark universe of desire and futility.)

And it can be said that this preoccupation with the written word, the centrality of the writing life, was a gift that V.S. Naipaul gave to younger writers like me in places like India. If I were to speak only for myself, although I know this includes many others, I owe everything to him.

I was in a restaurant this evening with my wife when I received a message from a writer-friend saying that V.S. Naipaul had died. My mood slipped. My wife asked what had happened. We tried to talk of other things and then I stopped and admitted to my wife that I was sad. If I were being honest I would have said that I felt I needed to dwell inside the feeling of loss. My wife's response was unambiguous. "He was a bigot," she said quickly.

I'm telling you this because I think my wife's answer reflects a response that many people, including those who have a profound respect for Naipaul's achievements as a writer, will share. The list is familiar: in one baffling interview after another, the scorn he showed for many women writers; his representation of Islam as a medieval religion full of violence, which I always thought had its origins in his being raised as a diasporic Hindu; his swift, often ahistorical, dismissal of formerly colonized nations as inferior.

Was I being over-dramatic, or defensive, when I said to my wife: "But suppose one's father has bigoted views. When he dies, will you still not mourn him?"

Reading him as a young man in a provincial town in India, I found Naipaul's writing gave a solidity to my surroundings. In a language that was as clear as the dawn, he appeared to be giving our streets a name and a recognizable air. In books like "India: A Million Mutinies Now," his 1990 book recounting travels in his ancestral home in India, he was also giving the ordinary person a voice.

Later, when I came to the West and began to live here, I took great pleasure in his books like the autobiographical 1987 work, "The Enigma of Arrival." In that strange book in particular, neither simply a novel nor a work of non-fiction, I saw an immigrant writer's tremendous act of invention. Through the sheer power of perception, noting details in the landscape and the people he saw at a distance, Naipaul was staking a claim to England, where he had come as an outsider.

I didn't know V.S. Naipaul very well and to a large extent my acquaintance with him was limited to meetings at literary festivals. Once I sent him a piece I had written for the New Statesman about a visit to Kashmir. On my last day there, I had gone looking for the hotel named Leeward where Naipaul had stayed in the sixties and written about in one of his earlier India books. The hotel was now a military bunker. Soon I received a fax from Naipaul. His letter began: "The Leeward was a doghouse, really. Better for it to be turned into the bunker you describe."

Naipaul then proceeded to offer me a brief history lesson about the ruins in Kashmir. He was merciless, but also wrong, and perhaps more than a bit bigoted. But the real thing I want to tell you is that I lost the fax. And yet, until I found it many months later, I could recall each word of it. That is the real importance of Naipaul's talent as a writer: to find in deceptively simple prose, an arresting syntactic rhythm that fixed for his reader an image of the world as it was.

West Lafayette
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: °
Kokomo
Clear
42° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 38°
Rensselaer
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 41°
Fowler
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 41°
Williamsport
Clear
42° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 38°
Crawfordsville
Clear
38° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 38°
Frankfort
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 38°
Delphi
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 41°
Monticello
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 41°
Logansport
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 45°
Below normal temperatures & patches of frost in the north & northeast.
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 108646

Reported Deaths: 3478
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20341757
Lake10013312
Elkhart6198106
St. Joseph586796
Allen5785198
Hamilton4600109
Vanderburgh318126
Hendricks2607120
Monroe224336
Johnson2241122
Tippecanoe211313
Clark205056
Porter197843
Cass19209
Delaware180159
Vigo169621
Madison153075
LaPorte134837
Floyd127961
Howard125163
Kosciusko116717
Bartholomew113257
Warrick104134
Marshall97423
Boone93846
Dubois92118
Hancock89242
Noble86432
Grant85132
Henry73424
Jackson7259
Wayne72214
Morgan68038
Shelby65529
LaGrange62811
Daviess61627
Dearborn61428
Clinton59111
Harrison54824
Putnam5098
Lawrence49928
Montgomery49421
White47114
Knox4659
Decatur44739
Gibson4344
DeKalb42511
Miami4202
Greene40935
Fayette40413
Jasper3732
Scott34410
Steuben3447
Sullivan32612
Jennings30512
Franklin29225
Posey2900
Clay2855
Orange27924
Ripley2768
Carroll26713
Wabash2547
Washington2491
Whitley2456
Wells2422
Starke2387
Jefferson2363
Adams2303
Fulton2292
Tipton21522
Huntington2073
Randolph2047
Perry20014
Spencer1984
Jay1640
Newton16411
Owen1621
Martin1560
Rush1484
Pike1331
Vermillion1210
Fountain1152
Pulaski1121
Blackford1072
Crawford980
Brown933
Parke902
Benton880
Union760
Ohio757
Switzerland660
Warren381
Unassigned0225

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events