Shiva Naipaul (ni-POHL), who in his fiction and nonfiction explored the deficiencies of Third World countries and the loss of identity among Third World people in the postcolonial era, was the sixth of seven children of Seepersad and Bropatie Capildeo Naipaul. The only other boy in the family was twelve years older than Shiva; he, too, became a well-known writer, V. S. Naipaul. After being educated at Queen’s Royal College and St. Mary’s College in Trinidad, Naipaul followed his older brother’s example, winning an Island Scholarship and going to the University of Oxford to study. When he arrived at University College in 1963 he began reading philosophy, psychology, and physiology, but he eventually changed to classical Chinese and took an inferior degree in 1968. At Oxford, however, Naipaul had begun his first novel and found that his vocation was writing. At Oxford, too, Naipaul met Virginia Margaret (Jenny) Stuart. In 1967 they were married and moved to London, where in 1974 their son Tarun was born.
After the appearance of Fireflies in 1970, Naipaul was awarded the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize, the Royal Society of Literature’s Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, and, a year later, the Jock Campbell Award. Two years later the next novel, The Chip-Chip Gatherers, won the Whitbread Literary Award.
Although these novels had gained for Naipaul a considerable following, he ceased writing novels during the next decade but instead traveled widely, writing essays for a number of periodicals. Commissioned by a publisher to write a book about the new countries in Africa, Naipaul spent six months touring Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. The result was North of South: An African Journey. While he was in San Francisco in 1979 Naipaul became interested in the People’s Temple Cult massacre in Jonestown, Guyana. Naipaul visited Guyana, interviewed dozens of people there and in California, and in 1980 published a journalistic work that also might be termed social criticism, Black and White.
Back in England, Naipaul settled down to write fiction. In 1983 he published A Hot Country, a story set in South America in a country named Cuyama. Meanwhile, Naipaul had been collecting short stories and essays, which appeared in Beyond the Dragon’s Mouth.
Early in 1984 Naipaul once again set off to gather...
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