Shiva (Shivadhar Srinivasa) Naipaul 1945-1985
Trinidadian-born English novelist and nonfiction writer.
Reflecting his own multinational roots, Naipaul focuses on problems of cultural identity and social unrest in Third World countries. His works often concern the sense of individual helplessness in the face of political instability and economic distress.
Naipaul, a Hindu of Indian descent, was born February 25, 1945, in Woodbrook, Trinidad. His father, Seepersad, a journalist whose literary gifts were never fully developed, died when Shiva was only seven. V. S. Naipaul, his older brother and later a famous novelist, was already a student at Oxford University at that time. Naipaul grew up with his mother and five sisters. Naipaul was an indifferent and at times difficult student at Queen's Royal College, the Protestant alma mater of his brother and several distinguished West Indian writers, but blossomed into a brilliant student at St. Mary's College, Queen's Royal College's Catholic rival, where he won one of Trinidad's prestigious Island Scholarships for study abroad. At the age of nineteen he followed in his brother's footsteps when he left Trinidad for Oxford, where he first read politics and psychology and then Chinese language and literature. In 1967 he married Jenny Stuart, with whom he had one son in 1974. After leaving Oxford in 1968, the family resided for many years in England, where Naipaul published fiction, winning the John Llewellyn Rhys prize and several other awards for his first novel. Naipaul traveled extensively in East Africa, witnessing many scenes of brutality, which he would describe in his works. Although he was well respected in the literary world, Naipaul did not reach the level of recognition his more famous brother had achieved. On August 13, 1985, Naipaul died suddenly of a heart attack in London.
Naipaul's first novel, Fireflies (1970), parodies the Trinidad colonial society on the threshold of universal suffrage. The novel details the downfall of leaders of a Trinidadian Hindu community as a result of their own family troubles and social deprivations. The Chip-Chip Gatherers (1973), his second novel, also is set in Trinidad; it examines the life of the small and increasingly closed Hindu community, and depicts the external colonial society. Naipaul tells the story of two disparate families who can never bridge their differences. Naipaul took a ten-year break from writing novels to travel and write two nonfiction books, North of South: An African Journey (1978) and Black and White (1980). The former is not just a travel book but is also a commentary on the pervasive influence of European mores and customs on the culture of East Africa. The latter is considered one of the best studies of the 1978 Jonestown massacre in the wilderness of Guyana. In 1983 Naipaul returned to writing fiction and produced a work much darker in tone than his previous novels, A Hot Country, set in the morally bankrupt fictional country of “Cuyama.” Beyond the Dragon's Mouth (1985) is a collection of short stories and articles in which Naipaul explores the intricacies of the effects of colonialism and cultural clash. A book of essays, An Unfinished Journey, was published posthumously in 1986
Criticism on Naipaul has been somewhat lacking, in part because his untimely death cut short a promising literary career. A number of critics have commented on his ambivalent relationship with his well-known older brother, and his complicated responses to his own multicultural experiences. North of South was roundly condemned by Africanists such as Michael Thelwell who accused Naipaul of prejudice against Third World nations and peoples. Others, such as Geoffrey Wheatcroft and Irving Howe, defended Naipaul as uncompromisingly honest about the corruption and violence he found rampant in East Africa and unwilling to oversimplify definitions of civilization and culture.