Two years ago, I was invited to a dinner party in New York. It took place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a penthouse apartment. Our host was not merely rich: she had a name that through long association with money had itself become a shorthand for wealth. The dinner was being held in honor of a writer, by now old and famous, on the publication of his latest and perhaps final book. And because the book was about Africa, and because as a man ages his thoughts circle around questions of legacy, the writer, who was not himself African, had requested, in lieu of a normal book launch, a quiet dinner with a group of young African writers. This was how I came to be invited.
I stood in the luxurious living room of the penthouse, glass in hand, surrounded by Morandi’s paintings and Picasso’s prints. To the sound of a small bell, from a private elevator the old writer and his middle-aged wife emerged. He was short and stout—a little fat, even, though you could see he hadn’t always been so—and he walked across the marble floor unsteadily, with the aid of a walking stick, and with the aid of his wife, a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman, taller than him, glamorous in her pashmina. My agent, who was also the old writer’s agent, introduced us. “Teju, meet Vidia Naipaul.”