9780375707292

A Writer's People

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780375707292

  • ISBN10:

    0375707298

  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-05-05
  • Publisher: Vintage
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Summary

V. S. Naipaul has always faced the challenges of "fitting one civilization to another." InA Writer's People, he takes us into this process of creative and intellectual assimilation, which has shaped both his writing and his life. Naipaul discusses the writers to whom he was exposed early onDerek Walcott, Gustave Flaubert, and his father, among themand his first encounters with literary culture. He illuminates the ways in which the writings of Gandhi, Nehru, and other Indian writers both reveal and conceal the authors themselves and their nation. And he brings the same scrutiny to bear on his own life: his early years in Trinidad; the empty spaces in his family history; his ever-evolving reactions to the more complicated India he would encounter for the first time at age thirty.

Author Biography

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 books of fiction and nonfiction, including A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and A Turn in the South, and a collection of letters, Between Father and Son. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.

Excerpts

The Worm in the Bud

Early 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.

But in the strangest way something like that had happened. The young poet became famous among us. He came from the island of St. Lucia. If Trinidad was a dot on the map of the world, it could be said that St. Lucia was a dot on that dot. And he had had his book published in Barbados. For island people the sea was a great divider: it led to different landscapes, different kinds of houses, people always slightly racially different, with strange accents. But the young poet and his book had overcome all of that: it was as though, as in a Victorian homily, virtue and dedication had made its way against the odds.

There might have been other promptings. There was much talk at the time about cherishing our local island “culture”; it was when I grew to hate the word. This talk focused on a talented dance group called the Little Carib (operating in a residential house not far from where I lived), and on the steel band, the improvised and extraordinary music-making of the back streets, done on oil drums and scrap metal, which had developed in Trinidad during the war. With these rare things, it was felt, local people would no longer go empty-handed into the community of nations; they would have something of their own to proclaim and be able at last to stand as men and possess their souls in peace.

Many who looked for this kind of comfort were actually the better-off, middle class and higher, in various ways racially mixed, in good jobs, but with no strong racial affili- ation, not wholly African, not European, not Asian, people who had no home but the island. A generation or so before they would have been content to be neither black nor Asian. But now they had begun to suffer in their jobs and in their persons from what, with their success, they saw more clearly as colonial disrespect. They were no longer content to hide, to be grateful for small mercies; they wanted more for themselves.

The talk about a local culture, the steel band and the dance, also came from people with political ambitions. Such talk could flatter a potential black electorate. The franchise was still restricted; but it was known that self-government was coming. Someone who spoke and wrote a lot about the culture was a man called Albert Gomes. He was a city politician who aimed to go higher. He was Portuguese and enormously fat. Th

Excerpted from A Writer's People: Ways of Looking and Feeling by V. S. Naipaul
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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