This week we are celebrating the life and work of prolific Nobel Prize-winning author, V. S. Naipaul who recently passed away at the age of 85 in London, England. The author of over thirty works of both fiction and non-fiction, Naipaul was born in Trinidad to a family with Indian roots. Many of Naipaul’s early works were set in Trinidad and Tobago, while later works included stories and autobiographical travel books documenting his experiences in India, Africa, North, and South America.
Published in 1957 and set in colonial Trinidad, Naipaul’s first novel The Mystic Masseur tells the story of an Indian writer who rises from poverty to become a successful politician using his talent as an illness-curing mystic masseur. Moving between farce and scathing social commentary on the country of Naipaul’s birth, the novel won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize the following year and was adapted into a 2001 film directed by Ismail Merchant.
Based on an election in rural post colonial Trinidad, Naipaul’s second novel, The Suffrage of Elvira was published in London in 1958. A satire of the democratic process and consequences of political change, the novel was published only four years before Trinidad and Tobago achieved Independence in 1962. As funny as it is fantastic, the fictional election became a perfect subject for the wit, irony and succinct elegance of style characteristic of Naipaul’s emerging individual vision.
Drawing on Naipaul’s childhood memories of Port of Spain, his third novel Miguel Street is a collection of short stories each of which focuses on a single character living on Miguel Street. The book won he 1961 Somerset Maugham Award and The New York Times said of it, “The sketches are written lightly, so that tragedy is understated and comedy is overstated, yet the ring of truth always prevails.” “Miguel Street is the Bowery, the Tenderloin, and the Catfish Row of Trinidad’s Port of Spain–its citizens a loony multitude whose knavery often rises from real kinship with pathos and tragedy. . . . Naipaul is at his best in these swift caricatures of human depravity” (San Francisco Chronicle).
Published in 1961, Naipaul’s fourth novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, was met with immediate worldwide success. The story of an Indo-Trinidadian striving for success in rural Trinidad and Tobago, A House for Mr. Biswas is now widely considered Naipaul’s magnum opus and the book responsible for launching him into international fame. Based heavily on the life of his father, Naipaul used contemporary postcolonial perspectives to view the now-vanished colonial work of his country’s past. The story of a young man who develops an overwhelming aspiration to own his own house as a means of authoring his own life and establishing his own identity in the face of his lack of education and overbearing family, the book is now listed on both Modern Library and Time Magazine’s greatest novels of the twentieth century.
Published in 1962, The Middle Passage was written as a book of non-fiction travel writing when Naipaul was invited by the government of Trinidad to revisit his native country and record his impressions. The result was a work of novelistic vividness and dazzling perspicacity that displayed Naipaul at the peak of his powers. Throughout the work Naipaul relates the ghastly episodes of the region’s colonial past and shows how they continue to inform its language, politics, and values. “Naipaul travels with the artist’s eye and ear and his observations are sharply discerning” (Evelyn Waugh).
In addition to the notable works by Naipaul highlighted above, our collection also currently includes signed first editions of Naipaul’s A Bend in the River, In A Free State, An Area of Darkness, and A Way in the World among others.