The Endurance Of Influence


I’m writing this on VS Naipaul’s birthday. He has turned 80.

In the manner of brave hagiographers, who look to childhood to present evidence of early genius — so-and-so was a composer at four, so-and-so performed surgical operations when only seven — allow me to present a fragment of a letter penned by the writer when he was only 14. The letter was unearthed by Patrick French while researching his justly-praised biography of Naipaul, The World Is What It Is; the 14-year-old in Trinidad had written this letter to a pen-friend named Beverly, who lived in Hawaii. Young Vidia wanted Beverly to know about the calypso ‘Rum and Coca-Cola’. He tells her about what he thinks is the best part and provides a helpful translation of what the words mean:

‘The Andrews Sisters and Bing Cosby/ Should make a trip to the West Indies,/ Siddong (=sit down) under de (=the) silvery moon/ Lissening (=listening) to dem (=them) calypsonian croon.’

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