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Authors: V. S. Naipaul

A Writer's People

BOOK: A Writer's People
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Acclaim for V.S. Naipaul's
A Writer's People

“A bracing, erudite ride.… Wonderfully written.… One may question Naipaul's premise, but it in no way negates that he is a very great writer.… What remains impressive is Naipaul's sense of wonder at the worlds he has discovered.”

—
The New York Times Book Review

“This is a brilliant work from a man who more than anybody else embodies what it means to be a writer.… As it turns out, Naipaul's reading has been as wide and deep as the peregrinations through the decolonised world that marked the second phase of his career.… As ever, Naipaul's sentences are tightly coiled and muscular; they embody the very qualities they praise.… Revelatory.”

—The Observer
(London)

“Essential reading for those who admire his work and want to understand it further. But there is much there for any enquiring mind, as it offers the insights and observations on literature, history and cultural sensibility of an honest and truly global thinker.”

—The Evening Standard
(London)

“This is an important coda, on a lifetime of ‘seeing.' … Its most brilliant pages (and the brilliance is still there, even in this late phase) are its most idiosyncratic and individual ones.… Its combination and crystallisation of the artistic and the political explains the swiftness with which Naipaul can move from the subject of literature to that of history, from Derek Walcott, Powell and Flaubert to the fascinating chapter on Gandhi and Nehru.”

—The Guardian
(London)

“Many sides of the complicated Naipaul personality are on show as he sets them out. There are some amazingly lofty and chilling lines. But there are also explorations of his own woundedness, of his personal myth of origins, or lack of origins.… His sympathies come to life.… Naipaul is at his best here when teasing out the ironies and complexities of cultural exchange.”

—The Sunday Telegraph
(London)

V. S. Naipaul
A Writer's People

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then he has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty-five books of fiction and nonfiction, including
Half a Life, A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River
, and
Magic Seeds
, and a collection of letters,
Between Father and Son
. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.

A
LSO BY
V. S. N
AIPAUL

N
ONFICTION

Literary Occasions

The Writer and the World

Between Father and Son:

Family Letters

Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions

Among the Converted Peoples

India: A Million Mutinies Now

A Turn in the South

Finding the Center

Among the Believers

The Return of Eva Perón

with
The Killings in Trinidad

India: A Wounded Civilization

The Overcrowded Barracoon

The Loss of El Dorado

An Area of Darkness

The Middle Passage

F
ICTION

Magic Seeds

Half a Life

A Way in the World

The Engima of Arrival
†

A Bend in the River

Guerillas

In a Free State

A Flag on the Island
†

The Mimic Men

Mr. Stone and the Knights

Companion
†

A House for Mr. Biswas

Miguel Street
*

The Suffrage of Elvira
*
†

The Mystic Masseur
*

*
Published in an omnibus edition entitled
Three Novels
.

†
Published in an omnibus edition entitled
The Night Watchman's Occurrence Book
.

FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, MAY 2009

Copyright © 2007 by V. S. Naipaul

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in
Great Britain by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd., London, in 2007,
and subsequently published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2008.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and
colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Naipaul, V.S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), [date]
A writer's people : ways of looking and feeling : an essay in five parts /
by V.S. Naipaul. —1st American ed.
p. cm
1. Naipaul, V.S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932– . 2. Authors, Trinidadian—
20th century—Biography. I. Title.
PR9272.9.N32Z475 2008
823′.914—dc22
[B] 2008003571

eISBN: 978-0-307-37067-9

www.vintagebooks.com

v3.1

For my daughter,
Maleeha Maria

Up to about the age of six or seven I lived mainly in my grandmother's house in a small country town in Trinidad. Then we moved to the capital, Port of Spain, to my grandmother's house in the Woodbrook area. I immediately fell in love with what I could see of the life of the Woodbrook street, and its municipal order, the early-morning washing of the gutters on both sides, the daily gathering-up of rubbish into the blue city-council horse carts. My grandmother's house stood on tallish concrete pillars. It had a front verandah hung with ferns in open metal baskets lined with the netting or bark from the sheathing of new coconut branches at the top of the tree. The ferns made for privacy in the verandah and watering them morning and evening was part of the house ritual. Concrete steps covered by a small pitched corrugated-iron roof led down to the front gate and the pavement. To stand beside the banisters on the steps gave a perfect view of the street and the people. I got to know the people well, though I never spoke
to them and they never spoke to me. I got to know their clothes and style and voices
.

Sixteen years later, in London, in a darker time, when I had grown to feel that I would never get started as a writer, I remembered the street and the people, and they gave me my first book
.

It was a “flat” view of the street: in what I had written I went right up close to it, as close as I had been as a child, shutting out what lay outside. I knew even then that there were other ways of looking; that if, so to speak, I took a step or two or three back and saw more of the setting, it would require another kind of writing. And if, in a greater complication, I wished to explore who I was and who the people in the street were
(
we were a small immigrant island, culturally and racially varied
)
, that would require yet another kind of writing. It was to that complication that my writing, in fact, took me. I had lived all my writing life in England; that had to be acknowledged, had to be part of my world view. I had been a serious traveller; that had to be acknowledged as well. I couldn't pretend as a writer I knew only one place. There were pressures to do that, but for me such a world view would have been false
.

All my life I have had to think about ways of looking and how they alter the configuration of the world
.

ONE
The Worm in the Bud

E
ARLY IN
1949, in Trinidad, near the end of my schooldays, word came to us in the sixth form of Queen's Royal College that there was a serious young poet in one of the smaller islands to the north who had just published a marvellous first book of poems. We had never had news like this before, not about a new book of poetry or about any kind of book; and I still wonder by what means this news could have reached us.

We were a small, mainly agricultural colony and we said all the time, without unhappiness, that we were a dot on the map of the world. It was a liberating thing to be, and we were really very small. There were just over half a million of us. We were racially much divided. On the island, small though we were, the living half-cultures or quarter-cultures of colonial Europe and immigrant Asia knew almost nothing of one another; a transported Africa was the presence all around us, like the sea. Only segments of our varied population were educated, and in the restricted local way, which we in the sixth form understood
very well: we could see the professional or career cul-de-sacs to which our education was leading us.

As always in these colonial places, there were little reading and writing groups here and there, now and then: harmless pools of vanity that came and went and didn't add up to anything like an organised or solid literary or cultural life. It seemed unlikely that there were people out there who were guardians of the life of the mind, were watching out for new movements, and could make a serious judgement about a new book of poetry.

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