Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (ni-POHL), born in Chaguanas, Trinidad, on August 17, 1932, has the peculiar vision of a man who is a product of three cultures: those of India, Trinidad, and Great Britain. His grandfather had come from India to Trinidad as an indentured laborer; one may see from Naipaul’s earlier novels, and particularly in A House for Mr. Biswas, how pervasive and tenacious the Indian culture remained among the many Indian immigrants to the Caribbean.
Naipaul completed his early education in Port of Spain, Trinidad. After working briefly as a schoolmaster at his old school and as a clerk in the Port of Spain Registrar’s Department, he left Trinidad for England on August 2, 1950, to attend University College, Oxford. On a Trinidad government scholarship, he studied literature and planned to become a writer. When his father died in 1953, Naipaul did not return home, but stayed in England to finish his degree. After graduating from Oxford in 1954, he worked briefly in the cataloging department of the National Portrait Gallery, London. Except for a few weeks writing advertising copy in 1957, this would be his last nonliterary job.
Although Naipaul traveled widely, London remained his home of choice. From 1954 to 1955, he worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Caribbean Service, presenting the weekly...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, a third-generation West Indian of East Indian ancestry, was born in Lion House (reincarnated as Hanuman House in his fourth novel, A House for Mr. Biswas) into a Hindu Brahman family in Chaguanas, Trinidad, on August 17, 1932. He grew up in a large Indian joint family with a brother, five sisters, and more than fifty cousins (author Neil Bissoondath is his nephew). Naipaul has called his family “a microcosm of the authoritarian state,” with power struggles and the seamy side of human behavior.
Naipaul’s father, Seepersad Naipaul, a correspondent for the Trinidad Guardian and an avid Charles Dickens fan, wrote Gurudeva, and Other Indian Tales (1943, 1946), a collection of short stories that Naipaul used as a model to discover what he calls “the trick of writing.” Naipaul captures his tender affection for his father in the father-son relationship in his first major novel, A House for Mr. Biswas. Even so, Naipaul, speaking about his Trinidad childhood in a 1972 interview, described his father as “a defeated man” who, like Mr. Biswas, felt alienated from the family hierarchy and solaced himself with “easy contempt.” His mother’s side of the family was prominent in Trinidadian society; his father’s was not.
Naipaul spent two years at Chaguanas Government School, a school his father had attended twenty years earlier, when it was the Canadian Mission School. In...
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Viewing V. S. Naipaul’s writing retrospectively, one can find in it a three-part pattern that suggests an orderly, seemingly calculated development, although the author did not plan this development in advance. Naipaul’s first three novels deal in ironic ways with the struggles of a Trinidad adjusting to its newly achieved independent status. These novels portray the foolishness and absurdity of Trinidad society as Naipaul, the observer, perceives it.
In A House for Mr. Biswas, the fourth book, Naipaul becomes more psychological in his approach and develops the novel by focusing on character rather than on external political events. Mr. Biswas yearns, in his desire to build a house, to make visible a personal identity that he must, for his own security, establish. Finally, in his later work, such as India: A Wounded Civilization and Among the Believers, Naipaul deals with the world outside Trinidad, exploring quests for identity by people who, like Naipaul himself, have left the island and ventured into other parts of the world.
Naipaul’s personal and artistic quest has been to discover his lost identity and the identities of the countries and people about whom he writes. Born in the West Indies to Hindu parents newly arrived from northern India, a teenage Naipaul left Trinidad for postwar Britain, where he was...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (NI-pawl) was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago, on August 17, 1932, of Hindu parents whose forebears had emigrated from India. Vidiadhar’s father, Seepersad Naipaul, was reared in poverty because of the early death of his own father. After completing his education, however, Seepersad married into a large, powerful Brahman family. At the time of Vidiadhar’s birth, Seepersad was staff correspondent for the Trinidad Guardian, reporting on events in the small town of Chaguanas. There he and his wife lived, along with dozens of relatives, all crowded into the large family home and dominated by his wife’s mother. Two years after Vidiadhar’s birth, when the crusading managing editor of the Trinidad Guardian lost his job, Seepersad was reduced to a position as stringer, or occasional writer. Lacking privacy or respect at home and deprived of the vocation that had given his life order and meaning, Seepersad had a nervous breakdown. For some years he moved from one odd job to another and from one place to another, while his wife and children remained in the big house in Chaguanas.
Although his father was to be a major influence on his career, V. S. Naipaul said he did not come to know him until 1938, when Seepersad was hired by the Trinidad Guardian to cover Port of Spain and moved his wife and...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Although he must be admired for his skill in plotting and characterization and for the beauty of his language, V. S. Naipaul is perhaps most important because he addresses the most difficult problem of modern humanity—the sense of alienation. Even in the early comic novels, Naipaul suggests how deeply his characters fear being expelled from the cultural groups that give them a sense of identity. Most of his later works take a grimly realistic look at the Third World, where political and social change has deprived people of their identities, leaving them isolated in chaotic, corrupt societies, where desperation too often leads them into fanaticism and mindless violence. In Magic Seeds (2004), the sequel to Half a Life, Naipaul seems to have abandoned hope for humanity. However, taken as a whole, his works provide such valuable insights into postcolonial societies that they may well make constructive change possible.
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