Naipaul is a literary circumnavigator
Stabroek News
November 1, 2001

Dear Editor,

Why give a toast at all, if it be given grudgingly? (SN Editorial, "Sir Vidia's Shadows," 10-25-01) [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ]. For every comment you made, every criticism you offered, the toast to Naipaul should have been given with good grace and respect. Yet the toast, given "grudgingly", could well sum up all that Naipaul finds lacking in the world around him, and he may well understand, even forgive, the mean-spiritedness of the act.

Perhaps, the cross that he bears is that while he sees the world, warts and all, he knows full well that he belongs to it. His sense of estrangement is not a commentary on Trinidad or the Caribbean: he feels estranged from the world at large.

In the New York Times article by Sarah Lyall announcing his win, she reported that while Naipaul has lived in Britain since the 1970's, "he has never admitted to belonging to anywhere. He prefers to describe himself as 'the world's writer,' unattached to any one tradition".

'It came to me that the great novelists wrote about highly organized societies' he wrote once in an essay, 'I had no such society, I couldn't share the assumptions of the writers; I didn't see my world reflected in theirs'."

Lyall went on to quote the Nobel academy which praised Naipaul for using that quality to his advantage: "V.S. Naipaul is a literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself; in his inimitable voice."

There is no selfishness in him for having shared that voice with us, whether it be bleak, critical, funny, or couched in the very elegant language for which he is known. He may not make us feel comfortable all the time but even when he is at his most acerbic, he does not assume a godlike role. In "An Area of Darkness", his descriptive details of the bumbling incompetence of the management of the hotel in Kashmir where he stayed is high comedy, and Naipaul is a participant in the comedy, never a contemptuous bystander.

The Nobel prize awarded Naipaul has been long overdue. It is richly deserved. The only grudging thing about it is that it was not awarded to him years ago.

Yours faithfully,

Ryhaan Shah