Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, also known as V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in the early 1930s. Naipaul’s father had emigrated from India with his grandparents in the 1880s, who sought work as indentured servants in Trinidad’s sugar plantations. Three years before Naipaul’s birth, his father began contributing to the Trinidad Guardian as an English-language journalist and joined the staff as Chaguanas correspondent in 1932, the year of Naipaul’s birth. Naipaul’s father’s work and reverence for writers became the spark for his own aspirations as a writer later in life. When he was only 7 years old, Naipaul’s family moved to England and Naipaul himself would later enroll in Oxford for higher education.
In 1954, V.S. Naipaul moved to London and began his career as a presenter on a BBC weekly program called Caribbean Voices. During his time there, he wrote “Bogart,” his first story of Miguel Street that was inspired by a neighbor he knew as a child in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Feeling inspired, Naipaul finished the collection of stories that became Miguel Street in only five weeks. Though the stories were received well by many, his publisher Andre Deutsch, who also published books by famous authors such as Jack Kerouac and Philip Roth, did not think Miguel Street would be profitable for Naipaul, who was still unknown as an author. Deustch encouraged the writer to create a novel, and without enthusiasm Naipaul quickly wrote The Mystic Masseur in 1955. The novel is about a frustrated India-born writer living in an idealized colonial Trinidad, where cultural accomplishment is at the forefront of society. The writer rises from his impoverished background to become a successful politician due to his mystic talent to cure illnesses.
After completing the novel, Naipaul went home to Trinidad for two months, staying with his family. He came back with plans for writing The Suffrage of Elvira, described as a comic novella with slapstick humor surrounding a local election in Trinidad, creating a satire of the democratic process. After the book was published, Naipaul would hand-write his reviews to his mother in Trinidad. One by the New Yorker wrote, “V.S. Naipaul is a young writer who contrives to blend Oxford wit with home-grown rambunctiousness and not to do harm to either.” The New York Review of Books would later review The Suffrage of Elvira in 2001 and describe Naipaul as “ a master of modern English prose.”
Meanwhile, with the help of his publisher Andre Deutsch, Naipaul’s collection of stories Miguel Street went on to win the Somerset Maugham Award, while his novel The Mystic Masseur was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
In early 1962, Naipaul made his first visit to the land of his ancestors, India. During his time there, the author for the first time felt faceless, unable to identify with a special ethnic group as he had in England and Trinidad. He was also distraught by the evasive Indian attitude toward poverty and suffering. When Naipaul wrote An Area of Darkness: An Experience of India, it was more of an effort to understand India than it was documentation of his time there. The New York Review of Books wrote about the book in 2001:
The world Naipaul sees is of course no void at all: it is a world dense with physical and social phenomena, brutally alive with the complications and contradictions of actual human endeavour… This world of Naipaul’s is in fact charged with what can only be described as a romantic view of reality, an almost unbearable tension between the idea and the physical fact…
Available in its first edition and signed by the author, An Area of Darkness: An Experience of India would go on to win the Booker Prize in 1971 and eventually the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature. Other of Naipaul’s worldly novels and stories are available in their first edition, signed or inscribed by the author, including North of South: An African Journey, A Bend in the River, A House for Mr. Biswas, In A Free State, A Way In The World, and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples.