Asia Online (TAO)
Naipaul - Nobel Lecture
Copyright © 2001 The Nobel Foundation
This is unusual
for me. I have given readings and not lectures. I have told people who ask for
lectures that I have no lecture to give. And that is true. It might seem strange
that a man who has dealt in words and emotions and ideas for nearly fifty years
shouldn't have a few to spare, so to speak. But everything of value about me
is in my books. Whatever extra there is in me at any given moment isn't fully
formed. I am hardly aware of it; it awaits the next book. It will - with luck
- come to me during the actual writing, and it will take me by surprise. That
element of surprise is what I look for when I am writing. It is my way of judging
what I am doing - which is never an easy thing to do.
Proust has written
with great penetration of the difference between the writer as writer and the
writer as a social being. You will find his thoughts in some of his essays in
Against Sainte-Beuve, a book reconstituted from his early papers.
French critic Sainte-Beuve believed that to understand a writer it was necessary
to know as much as possible about the exterior man, the details of his life.
It is a beguiling method, using the man to illuminate the work. It might seem
unassailable. But Proust is able very convincingly to pick it apart. "This
method of Sainte-Beuve," Proust writes, "ignores what a very slight
degree of self-acquaintance teaches us: that a book is the product of a different
self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.
If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching our own
bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it."
of Proust should be with us whenever we are reading the biography of a writer
- or the biography of anyone who depends on what can be called inspiration.
All the details of the life and the quirks and the friendships can be laid out
for us, but the mystery of the writing will remain. No amount of documentation,
however fascinating, can take us there. The biography of a writer - or even
the autobiography - will always have this incompleteness.
Proust is a
master of happy amplification, and I would like to go back to Against Sainte-Beuve
just for a little. "In fact," Proust writes, "it is the secretions
of one's innermost self, written in solitude and for oneself alone that one
gives to the public. What one bestows on private life - in conversation...or
in those drawing-room essays that are scarcely more than conversation in print
- is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which
one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents
When he wrote
that, Proust had not yet found the subject that was to lead him to the happiness
of his great literary labour. And you can tell from what I have quoted that
he was a man trusting to his intuition and waiting for luck. I have quoted these
words before in other places. The reason is that they define how I have gone
about my business. I have trusted to intuition. I did it at the beginning. I
do it even now. I have no idea how things might turn out, where in my writing
I might go next. I have trusted to my intuition to find the subjects, and I
have written intuitively. I have an idea when I start, I have a shape; but I
will fully understand what I have written only after some years.
I said earlier
that everything of value about me is in my books. I will go further now. I will
say I am the sum of my books. Each book, intuitively sensed and, in the case
of fiction, intuitively worked out, stands on what has gone before, and grows
out of it. I feel that at any stage of my literary career it could have been
said that the last book contained all the others.
It's been like
this because of my background. My background is at once exceedingly simple and
exceedingly confused. I was born in Trinidad. It is a small island in the mouth
of the great Orinoco river of Venezuela. So Trinidad is not strictly of South
America, and not strictly of the Caribbean. It was developed as a New World
plantation colony, and when I was born in 1932 it had a population of about
400,000. Of this, about 150,000 were Indians, Hindus and Muslims, nearly all
of peasant origin, and nearly all from the Gangetic plain.
This was my
very small community. The bulk of this migration from India occurred after 1880.
The deal was like this. People indentured themselves for five years to serve
on the estates. At the end of this time they were given a small piece of land,
perhaps five acres, or a passage back to India. In 1917, because of agitation
by Gandhi and others, the indenture system was abolished. And perhaps because
of this, or for some other reason, the pledge of land or repatriation was dishonoured
for many of the later arrivals. These people were absolutely destitute. They
slept in the streets of Port of Spain, the capital. When I was a child I saw
them. I suppose I didn't know they were destitute - I suppose that idea came
much later - and they made no impression on me. This was part of the cruelty
of the plantation colony.
I was born in
a small country town called Chaguanas, two or three miles inland from the Gulf
of Paria. Chaguanas was a strange name, in spelling and pronunciation, and many
of the Indian people - they were in the majority in the area - preferred to
call it by the Indian caste name of Chauhan.
I was thirty-four
when I found out about the name of my birthplace. I was living in London, had
been living in England for sixteen years. I was writing my ninth book. This
was a history of Trinidad, a human history, trying to re-create people and their
stories. I used to go to the British Museum to read the Spanish documents about
the region. These documents - recovered from the Spanish archives - were copied
out for the British government in the 1890s at the time of a nasty boundary
dispute with Venezuela. The documents
begin in 1530 and end with the disappearance of the Spanish Empire.
I was reading
about the foolish search for El Dorado, and the murderous interloping of the
English hero, Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1595 he raided Trinidad, killed all the
Spaniards he could, and went up the Orinoco looking for El Dorado. He found
nothing, but when he went back to England he said he had. He had a piece of
gold and some sand to show. He said he had hacked the gold out of a cliff on
the bank of the Orinoco. The Royal Mint said that the sand he asked them to
assay was worthless, and other people said that he had bought the gold beforehand
from North Africa. He then published a book to prove his point, and for four
centuries people have believed that Raleigh had found something. The magic of
Raleigh's book, which is really quite difficult to read, lay in its very long
title: The Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana, with
a relation of the great and golden city of Manoa (which the Spaniards call El
Dorado) and the provinces of Emeria, Aromaia, Amapaia, and other countries,
with their rivers adjoining. How real it sounds! And he had hardly been on the
And then, as
sometimes happens with confidence men, Raleigh was caught by his own fantasies.
Twenty-one years later, old and ill, he was let out of his London prison to
go to Guiana and find the gold mines he said he had found. In this fraudulent
venture his son died. The father, for the sake of his reputation, for the sake
of his lies, had sent his son to his death. And then Raleigh, full of grief,
with nothing left to live for, went back to London to be executed.
The story should
have ended there. But Spanish memories were long - no doubt because their imperial
correspondence was so slow: it might take up to two years for a letter from
Trinidad to be read in Spain. Eight years afterwards the Spaniards of Trinidad
and Guiana were still settling their scores with the Gulf Indians. One day in
the British Museum I read a letter from the King of Spain to the governor of
Trinidad. It was dated 12 October 1625.
you," the King wrote, "to give me some information about a certain
nation of Indians called Chaguanes, who you say number above one thousand, and
are of such bad disposition that it was they who led the English when they captured
the town. Their crime hasn't been punished because forces were not available
for this purpose and because the Indians acknowledge no master save their own
will. You have decided to give them a punishment. Follow the rules I have given
you; and let me know how you get on."
What the governor did I don't know. I could find no further reference to the Chaguanes in the documents in the Museum. Perhaps there were other documents about the Chaguanes in the mountain of paper in the Spanish archives in Seville which the British government scholars missed or didn't think important enough to copy out. What is true is that the little tribe of over a thousand - who would have been living on both sides of the Gulf of Paria - disappeared so completely that no one in the town of Chaguanas or Chauhan knew anything about them. And the thought came to me in the Museum that I was the first person since 1625 to whom that letter of the king of Spain had a real meaning. And that letter had been dug out of the archives only in 1896 or 1897. A disappearance, and then the silence of centuries.
We lived on
the Chaguanes' land. Every day in term time - I was just beginning to go to
school - I walked from my grandmother's house - past the two or three main-road
stores, the Chinese parlour, the Jubilee Theatre, and the high-smelling little
Portuguese factory that made cheap blue soap and cheap yellow soap in long bars
that were put out to dry and harden in the mornings - every day I walked past
these eternal-seeming things - to the Chaguanas Government School. Beyond the
school was sugar-cane, estate land, going up to the Gulf of Paria. The people
who had been dispossessed would have had their own kind of agriculture, their
own calendar, their own codes, their own sacred sites. They would have understood
the Orinoco-fed currents in the Gulf of Paria. Now all their skills and everything
else about them had been obliterated.
The world is
always in movement. People have everywhere at some time been dispossessed. I
suppose I was shocked by this discovery in 1967 about my birthplace because
I had never had any idea about it. But that was the way most of us lived in
the agricultural colony, blindly. There was no plot by the authorities to keep
us in our darkness. I think it was more simply that the knowledge wasn't there.
The kind of knowledge about the Chaguanes would not have been considered important,
and it would not have been easy to recover. They were a small tribe, and they
were aboriginal. Such people - on the mainland, in what was called B.G., British
Guiana - were known to us, and were a kind of joke. People who were loud and
ill-behaved were known, to all groups in Trinidad, I think, as warrahoons. I
used to think it was a made-up word, made up to suggest wildness. It was only
when I began to travel in Venezuela, in my forties, that I understood that a
word like that was the name of a rather large aborginal tribe there.
There was a
vague story when I was a child - and to me now it is an unbearably affecting
story - that at certain times aboriginal people came across in canoes from the
mainland, walked through the forest in the south of the island, and at a certain
spot picked some kind of fruit or made some kind of offering, and then went
back across the Gulf of Paria to the sodden estuary of the Orinoco. The rite
must have been of enormous importance to have survived the upheavals of four
hundred years, and the extinction of the aborigines in Trinidad. Or perhaps
- though Trinidad and Venezuela have a common flora - they had come only to
pick a particular kind of fruit. I don't know. I can't remember anyone inquiring.
And now the memory is all lost; and that sacred site, if it existed, has become
What was past
was past. I suppose that was the general attitude. And we Indians, immigrants
from India, had that attitude to the island. We lived for the most part ritualised
lives, and were not yet capable of self-assessment, which is where learning
begins. Half of us on this land of the Chaguanes were pretending - perhaps not
pretending, perhaps only feeling, never formulating it as an idea - that we
had brought a kind of India with us, which we could, as it were, unroll like
a carpet on the flat land.
house in Chaguanas was in two parts. The front part, of bricks and plaster,
was painted white. It was like a kind of Indian house, with a grand balustraded
terrace on the upper floor, and a prayer-room on the floor above that. It was
ambitious in its decorative detail, with lotus capitals on pillars, and sculptures
of Hindu deities, all done by people working only from a memory of things in
India. In Trinidad it was an architectural oddity. At the back of this house,
and joined to it by an upper bridge room, was a timber building in the French
Caribbean style. The entrance gate was at the side, between the two houses.
It was a tall gate of corrugated iron on a wooden frame. It made for a fierce
kind of privacy.
So as a child
I had this sense of two worlds, the world outside that tall corrugated-iron
gate, and the world at home - or, at any rate, the world of my grandmother's
house. It was a remnant of our caste sense, the thing that excluded and shut
out. In Trinidad, where as new arrivals we were a disadvantaged community, that
excluding idea was a kind of protection; it enabled us - for the time being,
and only for the time being - to live in our own way and according to our own
rules, to live in our own fading India. It made for an extraordinary self-centredness.
We looked inwards; we lived out our days; the world outside existed in a kind
of darkness; we inquired about nothing.
There was a
Muslim shop next door. The little loggia of my grandmother's shop ended against
his blank wall. The man's name was Mian. That was all that we knew of him and
his family. I suppose we must have seen him, but I have no mental picture of
him now. We knew nothing of Muslims. This idea of strangeness, of the thing
to be kept outside, extended even to other Hindus. For example, we ate rice
in the middle of the day, and wheat in the evenings. There were some extraordinary
people who reversed this natural order and ate rice in the evenings. I thought
of these people as strangers - you must imagine me at this time as under seven,
because when I was seven all this life of my grandmother's house in Chaguanas
came to an end for me. We moved to the capital, and then to the hills to the
But the habits
of mind engendered by this shut-in and shutting-out life lingered for quite
a while. If it were not for the short stories my father wrote I would have known
almost nothing about the general life of our Indian community. Those stories
gave me more than knowledge. They gave me a kind of solidity. They gave me something
to stand on in the world. I cannot imagine what my mental picture would have
been without those stories.
The world outside
existed in a kind of darkness; and we inquired about nothing. I was just old
enough to have some idea of the Indian epics, the Ramayana in particular. The
children who came five years or so after me in our extended family didn't have
this luck. No one taught us Hindi. Sometimes someone wrote out the alphabet
for us to learn, and that was that; we were expected to do the rest ourselves.
So, as English penetrated, we began to lose our language. My grandmother's house
was full of religion; there were many ceremonies and readings, some of which
went on for days. But no one explained or translated for us who could no longer
follow the language. So our ancestral faith receded, became mysterious, not
pertinent to our day-to-day life.
We made no inquiries
about India or about the families people had left behind. When our ways of thinking
had changed, and we wished to know, it was too late. I know nothing of the people
on my father's side; I know only that some of them came from Nepal. Two years
ago a kind Nepalese who liked my name sent me a copy of some pages from an 1872
gazetteer-like British work about India, Hindu Castes and Tribes as Represented
in Benares; the pages listed - among a multitude of names -those groups of Nepalese
in the holy city of Banaras who carried the name Naipal. That is all that I
Away from this
world of my grandmother's house, where we ate rice in the middle of the day
and wheat in the evenings, there was the great unknown - in this island of only
400,000 people. There were the African or African-derived people who were the
majority. They were policemen; they were teachers. One of them was my very first
teacher at the Chaguanas Government School; I remembered her with adoration
for years. There was the capital, where very soon we would all have to go for
education and jobs, and where we would settle permanently, among strangers.
There were the white people, not all of them English; and the Portuguese and
the Chinese, at one time also immigrants like us. And, more mysterious than
these, were the people we called Spanish, 'pagnols, mixed people of warm brown
complexions who came from the Spanish time, before the island was detached from
Venezuela and the Spanish Empire - a kind of history absolutely beyond my child's
To give you
this idea of my background, I have had to call on knowledge and ideas that came
to me much later, principally from my writing. As a child I knew almost nothing,
nothing beyond what I had picked up in my grandmother's house. All children,
I suppose, come into the world like that, not knowing who they are. But for
the French child, say, that knowledge is waiting. That knowledge will be all
around them. It will come indirectly from the conversation of their elders.
It will be in the newspapers and on the radio. And at school the work of generations
of scholars, scaled down for school texts, will provide some idea of France
and the French.
bright boy though I was, I was surrounded by areas of darkness. School elucidated
nothing for me. I was crammed with facts and formulas. Everything had to be
learned by heart; everything was abstract for me. Again, I do not believe there
was a plan or plot to make our courses like that. What we were getting was standard
school learning. In another setting it would have made sense. And at least some
of the failing would have lain in me. With my limited social background it was
hard for me imaginatively to enter into other societies or societies that were
far away. I loved the idea of books, but I found it hard to read them. I got
on best with things like Andersen and Aesop, timeless, placeless, not excluding.
And when at last in the sixth form, the highest form in the college, I got to
like some of our literature texts - Moliere, Cyrano de Bergerac - I suppose
it was because they had the quality of the fairytale.
When I became
a writer those areas of darkness around me as a child became my subjects. The
land; the aborigines; the New World; the colony; the history; India; the Muslim
world, to which I also felt myself related; Africa; and then England, where
I was doing my writing. That was what I meant when I said that my books stand
one on the other, and that I am the sum of my books. That was what I meant when
I said that my background, the source and prompting of my work, was at once
exceedingly simple and exceedingly complicated. You will have seen how simple
it was in the country town of Chaguanas. And I think you will understand how
complicated it was for me as a writer. Especially in the beginning, when the
literary models I had - the models given me by what I can only call my false
learning - dealt with entirely different societies. But perhaps you might feel
that the material was so rich it would have been no trouble at all to get started
and to go on. What I have said about the background, however, comes from the
knowledge I acquired with my writing. And you must believe me when I tell you
that the pattern in my work has only become clear in the last two months or
so. Passages from old books were read to me, and I saw the connections. Until
then the greatest trouble for me was to describe my writing to people, to say
what I had done.
I said I was
an intuitive writer. That was so, and that remains so now, when I am nearly
at the end. I never had a plan. I followed no system. I worked intuitively.
My aim every time was do a book, to create something that would be easy and
interesting to read. At every stage I could only work within my knowledge and
sensibility and talent and world-view. Those things developed book by book.
And I had to do the books I did because there were no books about those subjects
to give me what I wanted. I had to clear up my world, elucidate it, for myself.
I had to go
to the documents in the British Museum and elsewhere, to get the true feel of
the history of the colony. I had to travel to India because there was no one
to tell me what the India my grandparents had come from was like. There was
the writing of Nehru and Gandhi; and strangely it was Gandhi, with his South
African experience, who gave me more, but not enough. There was Kipling; there
were British-Indian writers like John Masters (going very strong in the 1950s,
with an announced plan, later abandoned, I fear, for thirty-five connected novels
about British India); there were romances by women writers. The few Indian writers
who had come up at that time were middle-class people, town-dwellers; they didn't
know the India we had come from.
And when that
Indian need was satisfied, others became apparent: Africa, South America, the
Muslim world. The aim has always been to fill out my world picture, and the
purpose comes from my childhood: to make me more at ease with myself. Kind people
have sometimes written asking me to go and write about Germany, say, or China.
But there is much good writing already about those places; I am willing to depend
there on the writing that exists. And those subjects are for other people. Those
were not the areas of darkness I felt about me as a child. So, just as there
is a development in my work, a development in narrative skill and knowledge
and sensibility, so there is a kind of unity, a focus, though I might appear
to be going in many directions.
When I began
I had no idea of the way ahead. I wished only to do a book. I was trying to
write in England, where I stayed on after my years at the university, and it
seemed to me that my experience was very thin, was not truly of the stuff of
books. I could find in no book anything that came near my background. The young
French or English person who wished to write would have found any number of
models to set him on his way. I had none. My father's stories about our Indian
community belonged to the past. My world was quite different. It was more urban,
more mixed. The simple physical details of the chaotic life of our extended
family - sleeping rooms or sleeping spaces, eating times, the sheer number of
people - seemed impossible to handle. There was too much to be explained, both
about my home life and about the world outside. And at the same time there was
also too much about us - like our own ancestry and history - that I didn't know.
At last one
day there came to me the idea of starting with the Port of Spain street to which
we had moved from Chaguanas. There was no big corrugated-iron gate shutting
out the world there. The life of the street was open to me. It was an intense
pleasure for me to observe it from the verandah. This street life was what I
began to write about. I wished to write fast, to avoid too much self-questioning,
and so I simplified. I suppressed the child-narrator's background. I ignored
the racial and social complexities of the street. I explained nothing. I stayed
at ground level, so to speak. I presented people only as they appeared on the
street. I wrote a story a day. The first stories were very short. I was worried
about the material lasting long enough. But then the writing did its magic.
The material began to present itself to me from many sources. The stories became
longer; they couldn't be written in a day. And then the inspiration, which at
one stage had seemed very easy, rolling me along, came to an end. But a book
had been written, and I had in my own mind become a writer.
between the writer and his material grew with the two later books; the vision
was wider. And then intuition led me to a large book about our family life.
During this book my writing ambition grew. But when it was over I felt I had
done all that I could do with my island material. No matter how much I meditated
on it, no further fiction would come.
rescued me. I became a traveller. I travelled in the Caribbean region and understood
much more about the colonial set-up of which I had been part. I went to India,
my ancestral land, for a year; it was a journey that broke my life in two. The
books that I wrote about these two journeys took me to new realms of emotion,
gave me a world-view I had never had, extended me technically. I was able in
the fiction that then came to me to take in England as well as the Caribbean
- and how hard that was to do. I was able also to take in all the racial groups
of the island, which I had never before been able to do.
This new fiction
was about colonial shame and fantasy, a book, in fact, about how the powerless
lie about themselves, and lie to themselves, since it is their only resource.
The book was called The Mimic Men. And it was not about mimics. It was about
colonial men mimicking the condition of manhood, men who had grown to distrust
everything about themselves. Some pages of this book were read to me the other
day - I hadn't looked at it for more than thirty years - and it occurred to
me that I had been writing about colonial schizophrenia. But I hadn't thought
of it like that. I had never used abstract words to describe any writing purpose
of mine. If I had, I would never have been able to do the book. The book was
done intuitively, and only out of close observation.
I have done
this little survey of the early part of my career to try to show the stages
by which, in just ten years, my birthplace had altered or developed in my writing:
from the comedy of street life to a study of a kind of widespread schizophrenia.
What was simple had become complicated.
and the travel-book form have given me my way of looking; and you will understand
why for me all literary forms are equally valuable. It came to me, for instance,
when I set out to write my third book about India - twenty-six years after the
first - that what was most important about a travel book were the people the
writer travelled among. The people had to define themselves. A simple enough
idea, but it required a new kind of book; it called for a new way of travelling.
And it was the very method I used later when I went, for the second time, into
the Muslim world.
I have always
moved by intuition alone. I have no system, literary or political. I have no
guiding political idea. I think that probably lies with my ancestry. The Indian
writer R K Narayan, who died this year, had no political idea. My father, who
wrote his stories in a very dark time, and for no reward, had no political idea.
Perhaps it is because we have been far from authority for many centuries. It
gives us a special point of view. I feel we are more inclined to see the humour
and pity of things.
years ago I went to Argentina. It was at the time of the guerrilla crisis. People
were waiting for the old dictator Perón to come back from exile. The
country was full of hate. Peronists were waiting to settle old scores. One such
man said to me, "There is good torture and bad torture." Good torture
was what you did to the enemies of the people. Bad torture was what the enemies
of the people did to you. People on the other side were saying the same thing.
There was no true debate about anything. There was only passion and the borrowed
political jargon of Europe. I wrote, "Where jargon turns living issues
into abstractions, and where jargon ends by competing with jargon, people don't
have causes. They only have enemies."
And the passions
of Argentina are still working themselves out, still defeating reason and consuming
lives. No resolution is in sight.
I am near the
end of my work now. I am glad to have done what I have done, glad creatively
to have pushed myself as far as I could go. Because of the intuitive way in
which I have written, and also because of the baffling nature of my material,
every book has come as a blessing. Every book has amazed me; up to the moment
of writing I never knew it was there. But the greatest miracle for me was getting
started. I feel - and the anxiety is still vivid to me - that I might easily
have failed before I began.
I will end as
I began, with one of the marvellous little essays of Proust in Against Sainte-Beuve.
"The beautiful things we shall write if we have talent," Proust says,
"are inside us, indistinct, like the memory of a melody which delights
us though we are unable to recapture its outline. Those who are obsessed by
this blurred memory of truths they have never known are the men who are gifted...
Talent is like a sort of memory which will enable them finally to bring this
indistinct music closer to them, to hear it clearly, to note it down..."
Talent, Proust says. I would say luck, and much labour.
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.
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.