The Nobel Prize in Literature

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The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2001 is awarded to the British writer, born in Trinidad, V.S. Naipaul. V.S. Naipaul is a literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice. Singularly unaffected by literary fashion and models he has wrought existing genres into a style of his own, in which the customary distinctions between fiction and non-fiction are of subordinate importance.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001

"for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories"

 
 




Sir V.S. Naipaul


Great Britain


1932 -


The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2001 is awarded to the British writer, born in Trinidad, V.S. Naipaul
V.S. Naipaul is a literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice. Singularly unaffected by literary fashion and models he has wrought existing genres into a style of his own, in which the customary distinctions between fiction and non-fiction are of subordinate importance.
Naipaul’s literary domain has extended far beyond the West Indian island of Trinidad, his first subject, and now encompasses India, Africa, America from south to north, the Islamic countries of Asia and, not least, England. Naipaul is Conrad’s heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in his memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.
The farcical yarns in his first work, The Mystic Masseur, and the short stories in Miguel Street with their blend of Chekhov and calypso established Naipaul as a humorist and a portrayer of street life. He took a giant stride with A House for Mr. Biswas, one of those singular novels that seem to constitute their own complete universes, in this case a miniature India on the periphery of the British Empire, the scene of his father’s circumscribed existence. In allowing peripheral figures their place in the momentousness of great literature, Naipaul reverses normal perspectives and denies readers at the centre their protective detachment. This principle was made to serve in a series of novels in which, despite the increasingly documentary tone, the characters did not therefore become less colourful. Fictional narratives, autobiography and documentaries have merged in Naipaul’s writing without it always being possible to say which element dominates.
In his masterpiece The Enigma of Arrival Naipaul visits the reality of England like an anthropologist studying some hitherto unexplored native tribe deep in the jungle. With apparently short-sighted and random observations he creates an unrelenting image of the placid collapse of the old colonial ruling culture and the demise of European neighbourhoods.
Naipaul has drawn attention to the novel’s lack of universality as a form, that it presupposes an inviolate human world of the kind that has been shattered for conquered peoples. He began to experience the inadequacy of fiction while he was working on The Loss of El Dorado, in which after extensive study of the archives he described the appalling colonial history of Trinidad. He found that he had to cling to the authenticity of the details and the voices and abstain from mere fictionalisation while at the same time continuing to render his material in the form of literature. His travel books allow witnesses to testify at every turn, not least in his powerful description of the eastern regions of the Islamic world, Beyond Belief. The author’s empathy finds expression in the acuity of his ear.
Naipaul is a modern philosophe, carrying on the tradition that started originally with Lettres persanes and Candide. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired, he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony.

The British writer, born in Trinidad, V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) Naipaul was born in 1932 in Chaguanas, close to the Port of Spain on Trinidad, in a family descended from immigrants from the north of India. His grandfather worked in a sugar cane plantation and his father was a journalist and writer. At the age of 18 Naipaul travelled to England where, after studying at University College at Oxford, he was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1953. From then on he continued to live in England (since the 70s in Wiltshire, close to Stonehenge) but he has also spent a great deal of time travelling in Asia, Africa and America. Apart from a few years in the middle of the 1950s, when he was employed by the BBC as a free-lance journalist, he has devoted himself entirely to his writing.
Naipaul's works consist mainly of novels and short stories, but also include some that are documentary. He is to a very high degree a cosmopolitan writer, a fact that he himself considers to stem from his lack of roots: he is unhappy about the cultural and spiritual poverty of Trinidad, he feels alienated from India, and in England he is incapable of relating to and identifying with the traditional values of what was once a colonial power.
The events in his earliest books take place in the West Indies. A few years after the publication of his first work, The Mystic Masseur (1957), came what is considered by many to be one of his most outstanding novels, A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), in which the protagonist is modelled on the author's father.
After the enormous success of A House for Mr. Biswas, Naipaul extended the geographical and social perspective of his writing to describe with increasing pessimism the deleterious impact of colonialism and emerging nationalism on the third world, in for instance Guerrillas (1975) and A Bend in the River (1979), the latter a portrayal of Africa that has been compared to Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
In his travel books and his documentary works he presents his impressions of the country of his ancestors, India, as in India : A Million Mutinies Now (1990), and also critical assessments of Muslim fundamentalism in non-Arab countries such as Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia and Pakistan in Among the Believers (1981) and Beyond Belief (1998).
The novels The Enigma of Arrival (1987) and A Way in the World (1994) are to a great extent autobiographical. In The Enigma of Arrival he describes how a landed estate in southern England and its proprietor, with a colonial background and afflicted by a degenerative disease, gradually decline before finally perishing. A Way in the World, which is a cross between fiction, memoirs and history, consists of nine independent but thematically linked narratives in which Caribbean and Indian traditions are blended with the culture encountered by the author when he moved to England at the age of 18.
V.S. Naipaul has been awarded a number of literary prizes, among them the Booker Prize in 1971 and the T.S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing in 1986. He is an honorary doctor of St. Andrew's College and Columbia University and of the Universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford. In 1990 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
A selection of works by V.S. Naipaul:

The Mystic Masseur. London: Deutsch, 1957.

Miguel Street. London: Deutsch, 1959.

A House for Mr. Biswas. London: Deutsch, 1961.

The Middle Passage : Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America. London: Deutsch, 1962.

Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion. London: Deutsch, 1963.

A Flag on the Island. London: Deutsch, 1967.

The Loss of El Dorado : A History. London: Deutsch, 1969.

In a Free State. London: Deutsch, 1971.

The Overcrowded Barracoon and Other Articles. London: Deutsch, 1972.

Guerrillas. London: Deutsch, 1975.

India : A Wounded Civilization. London: Deutsch, 1977.

A Bend in the River. London: Deutsch, 1979.

A Congo Diary. Los Angeles, CA: Sylvester & Orphanos, 1980.

Among the Believers : An Islamic Journey. London: Deutsch, 1981.

The Enigma of Arrival. London: Viking, 1987.

India : A Million Mutinies Now. London: Heinemann, 1990.

A Way in the World. London: Heinemann, 1994.

Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples. London: Little, Brown, 1998.

Reading and Writing : A Personal Account. New York: New York Review of Books, 2000.

Half a life. London: Picador, 2001.

 

Literature:

Theroux, Paul, V.S. Naipaul : an introduction to his work. London: Deutsch, 1972.

Hamner, Robert, V.S. Naipaul. New York: Twayne, 1973.

Critical perspectives on V.S. Naipaul. Ed. Robert D. Hamner. London: Heinemann, 1979.

Nightingale, Peggy, Journey through darkness : the writing of V.S. Naipaul. St. Lucia: Univ. of Queensland Press, 1987.

Hughes, Peter, V.S. Naipaul. London: Routledge, 1988.

Jarvis, Kelvin, V.S. Naipaul : a selective bibliography with annotations, 1957–1987. Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow, 1989.

Kelly, Richard, V.S. Naipaul. New York: Continuum, 1989.

Weiss, Timothy F., On the margins : the art of exile in V.S. Naipaul. Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Dissanayake, Wimal, Self and colonial desire : travel writings of V.S. Naipaul. New York: P. Lang, 1993.

King, Bruce, V.S. Naipaul. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993.

Levy, Judith, V.S. Naipaul : displacement and autobiography. ...

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