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Why has V.S. Naipaul Rejected the Trinidad of his Birth?

Written by Patrick Skene Catling for The Spectator on Saturday, August 4, 2018

Savi Naipaul Akal’s publishing house is named after the peepal tree, in whose shade Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. The author’s industriously detailed memoir reveals nothing quite so brilliantly life-enhancing but presents persuasive statements in favour of family loyalty, domestic order and higher education, while allowing herself opportunities to express resentment of a disturbing sibling rival.

She was proud when her brother Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature, but dismayed when his acknowledgement of it failed to mention Trinidad, the land of his birth. He called his prize ‘a great tribute to both England, my home, and India, the home of my ancestors’ …

According to Savi, who evidently has always been sharply observant as well as affectionate, whenever such warmth was deserved, their father’s reactions to Vidia’s Nobel would have been as vehement and mixed as her own:

Pa would have been ecstatic, and would have wept with joy. For days and weeks Pa would have smiled with pride and pleasure to remember that the little boy to whom he had read from books as a child had gone on to publish many books himself and earn the plaudits of the world. All the same, Pa would not have liked everything about the man Vidia … Pa would have been distressed that Vidia had developed an hauteur and callousness that upset and wounded so many good people. He would have been horrified by Vidia’s treatment of Ma. 

In short, Savi complains, the higher Vidia has risen in literary fame and fortune, the more disdainfully he has treated all those he regards as inferiors. Anyone looking for a defence of V.S. Naipaul will not find it in this book … Savi writes with admirable moderation, balance and good humour about Trinidad real estate and other aspects of her family history … but almost every reference to her most celebrated brother seems to make her see red.

For the sake of some sort of justice, or at least justification, one should read V.S. Naipaul’s own books, which help to explain why he repudiates his birthplace.

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This is a review of The Naipauls of Nepaul Street

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