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Should we stop reading into authors’ lives and get back to their books?

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below)

As soon as the news of VS Naipaul’s death broke a few weeks ago, a thousand think pieces rose as one, as though to take his place. His legacy was both attacked and defended, his misogyny and racism condemned and forgiven. This frenzied conversation crystallised around a question readers have been grappling with for years, but with increasing urgency: to what extent should we consider an artist’s personality, politics and ethics relevant to our appreciation of their work?

It seems that almost no one can separate the writer from the books when it comes to Naipaul. The same is true of our response to work by authors who have recently been accused of various levels of misconduct following #metoo. In the past week alone, compelling and devastating reports of abuse by lauded authors have appeared in the media: Gwyn Conger Steinbeck, John Steinbeck’s second wife, detailed his sadism and womanising in a memoir that has recently come to light; author Joyce Maynard has written of her experiences with JD Salinger, who summoned her to live with him when she was 18 and he was 53.

Practical criticism – the academic approach to texts that aims to consider words on the page independently of their author or the reader’s preconceived ideas – began almost 100 years ago; now, in 2018, such death of the author” talk appears to be dead itself. While the takes on Naipaul were diverse, and some argued that Naipaul’s bad character was irrelevant to his work, the fact of his bad character was always front and centre. It could not go unmarked– but what remains to be decided is the extent to which it marks the legacy of a Nobel prize-winning author.

Read more at The Guardian link here

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V.S. Naipaul, a writer of many contradictions and obvious greatness

(From the New York Times. Link to the complete article given below)

V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate who died at 85 on Saturday, had so many gifts as a writer — suppleness, wit, an unsparing eye for detail — that he could seemingly do whatever he wanted. What he did want, it became apparent, was to rarely please anyone but himself. The world’s readers flocked to his many novels and books of reportage for “his fastidious scorn,” as the critic Clive James wrote, “not for his large heart.” In his obvious greatness, in the hard truths he dealt, Naipaul attracted and repelled.

He was a walking sack of contradictions, in some ways the archetypal writer of the shifting and migratory 20th century. His life was a series of journeys between old world and new. He was a cool and sometimes snappish mediator between continents. Indian by descent, Trinidadian by birth, Naipaul attended Oxford and lived in London, where he came to wear elegant suits and move in elite social circles. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m speaking literally.”

His breakthrough book, after three comic works set in the Caribbean, was “A House for Mr. Biswas” (1961), a masterpiece composed when Naipaul was 29. It has lost none of its sweep and sly humor. It’s about a character, based on Naipaul’s father, who begins his life as a sign painter in Trinidad and Tobago and improbably rises to become a journalist. The first sign he paints reads, in words the industrious Naipaul seemed to take to heart: “IDLERS KEEP OUT BY ORDER.”

The richest and most eminently re-readable books of Naipaul’s fiction after “A House for Mr. Biswas” include “In a Free State,” an intimate suite of stories concerned with colonialism and the vagaries of power. Set in Egypt, America, Africa and England, it won the Booker Prize in 1971. “Guerrillas” was called “probably the best novel of 1975” by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. It is Naipaul’s most propulsive book. Set in an unnamed Caribbean country where the air is thick with postcolonial British dominion, it offers a complex portrait of the manners and motives of third world revolutionaries. It is an uncanny meditation on displacement. You never quite know where the novel is heading. Its author would later say, “Plot is for those who already know the world; narrative is for those who want to discover it.” His last great novel, set in postcolonial Central Africa, may have been “A Bend in the River” (1979).

Read more at the New York Times link here


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A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961, is one of the imperishable novels of the 20th century: Teju Cole

NaipaulA House for Mr Biswas is episodic and packed with conflict. Mr Biswas subverts heroic convention: he is smart and funny, but also often petulant, mean and unsympathetic. His enemies, who are mostly his relatives, are largely unlikable, but they also have their admirable moments. The narrative of the novel is propelled by a clear goal – the acquisition of the titular house – which, it becomes apparent, can only be achieved by the most exhaustively circuitous route. It is a novel of epic length, formal perfection, and contains two notable peculiarities: its setting, which, being domestic, is unusual for an epic; and its geographical location, Trinidad, an important island in the Caribbean but not a particularly influential one on the world stage. And yet, this severely delimited context gave VS Naipaul an entire world of experience and feeling on which to draw. A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961, is one of the imperishable novels of the 20th century. Continue reading


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10 Rules of Writing: Amitava Kumar

Amitava_KumarWhen I was promoted to the rank of professor, the library at the university where I was then employed asked me to send them the name of a book that had been useful to me in my career. I chose VS Naipaul’s Finding the Center. The library then purchased a copy, which was duly displayed in one of its rooms, with a statement I had written about the book:

This was one of the first literary autobiographies that I read. Its very first sentence established in my mind the idea of writing as an opening in time or a beginning; it conveyed to me, with its movement and rhythm, a history of repeated striving, and of things coming together, at last, in the achievement of the printed word: “It is now nearly thirty years since, in a BBC room in London, on an old BBC typewriter, and on smooth, ‘non-rustle’ BBC script paper, I wrote the first sentence of my first publishable book.” Continue reading


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V S Naipaul leads stellar cast of writers for Indian summer of literature and arts in UK

NaipaulNobel laureate V S Naipaul will lead a stellar cast of Indian writers descending on London to attend the city’s most sought after literary festival.

The year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Naipaul’s literary masterpiece A House of Mr Biswas.

From a discussion on Mahatma Gandhi’s genius to the wounds of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 – described as the largest mass migration in history, writers like Anita Anand, Lance Price, Nils Nordberg, Sam Miller, Tahmima Anam and Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee will form part of the second Jaipur Literary Festival at London’s famous Southbank Centre.

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V. S. Naipaul: ‘ISIS is now the Fourth Reich’

VSNaipaulThe Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul has warned that Islamic State are the most potent threat to the world since the Nazis.

In a hard-hitting article in UK’s Mail on Sunday, the revered novelist brands the extremist Muslim organisation as the Fourth Reich, saying it is comparable to Adolf Hitler’s regime in its fanaticism and barbarity.

“Just as the Third Reich did, Isis categorises its enemies as worthy of particular means of execution from decapitation to crucifixion and death by fire,” he writes. Continue reading


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Salman Rushdie hits back at Jnanpith winner Bhalchandra Nemade

Salman RushdieWriter Salman Rushdie has lashed out at Jnanpith award-winning Marathi writer Bhalchandra Nemade for his comment that Rushdie’s works lacked literary merit.

Shortly after being chosen for the prestigious Jnanpith award on Friday, Mr. Nemade made the remarks at a felicitation programme organised by the Matrubhasha Samvardhan Sabha in Mumbai. He dismissed the works of Mr. Rushdie and V.S. Naipaul as “pandering to the West.” Mr. Rushdie’s works after Midnight’s Children lacked literary merit, he said. Continue reading


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Ban English, says Jnanpith winner, hits out at Naipaul and Rushdie

On a day he was declared winner of the 2014 Jnanpith award, India’s highest literary honour, Marathi writer Bhalchandra Nemade described English as a ” killer language” and calling for its banning from the field of education in India. He also sharply criticized two Indian-origin writers, V S Naipaul and Salman Rushdie, for “pandering to the West” and dismissed their works as being of little value. Continue reading


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VS Naipaul’s notorious conceit has drained away – and the man who remains is hard to read: Ian Jack

A writer’s personality can colour your sense of his work – but at a literary festival in India last week, the sad problem was almost the opposite: The Guardian

VSNaipaulFew books have meant more to me than some of those written by VS Naipaul, although the more I knew (or thought I knew) about the author, the less straightforward my admiration of his books became. One school of thought says this is foolish: a writer and his work need to be seen in separate compartments, so that the work can’t be contaminated by the author’s reputation as a wife-beating drunk, child molester or antisemite. Naipaul is none of these, but his perplexing frankness has hurt many people close to him and revealed a breathtaking, almost comic, arrogance that this reader at least finds hard to forget. In the age when writers were read and not seen or heard, we would have known much less about these characteristics. Which reader of Biggles knew the true life and habits of captain WE Johns, or even how he looked? Today, however, writers are often more visible than their books, which makes the argument for a work-life division harder to sustain. At literary festivals, we see a person rather than a printed page. It can have unexpected effects. Continue reading


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Zee Jaipur Literature Festival: I am in the sunset of my life, quips VS Naipaul

VSNaipaulHe’s 82-years-old, frail and not in the best of health, but Nobel laureate Sir VS Naipaul had the crowds at Jaipur hanging on to his every word on Saturday at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival (ZeeJLF). Speaking to Naipaul about his life and writings was Farrukh Dhondy, his long-time friend and eminent British novelist and scriptwriter, even as his wife, Lady Nadira, sat in a chair behind him, taking notes, holding the microphone when he became too tired to hold it, and prompting the words when he forgot what he was saying or ran out of steam.  Continue reading