A well-deserved honour for an oracle of our time Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
October 12, 2001

IN THE early 1980s, a writer in NEWSWEEK magazine was so impressed with the intellect and profound words of Vidia Naipaul that she penned these words: “Speaking with Naipaul is like confronting the Delphic Oracle.”

While we do not know whether a conversation with the Trinidadian-born writer would indeed be akin to an encounter with the Oracle at Delphi, we are more than certain that Vidia Naipaul is not only the most renowned author out of the Caribbean, he has also been described as the greatest living writer of the English language. And yesterday’s announcement that he has been awarded this year’s prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature is probably the best news disseminated in the Caribbean over the last few months.

This recognition for the man who gave the world such literary gems as ‘Miguel Street’, ‘A House for Mr Biswas’, ‘The Mimic Men’, ‘A Wounded Civilisation’, ‘The Suffrage of Elvira’ and ‘The Mystic Masseur’ was a very long time in coming. In the non-television culture of Guyana in the mid-1950s, V.S. Naipaul’s poignant vignettes of ordinary working-class people immortalised in the work ‘Miguel Street’ were some of the first encounters that generation experienced with Caribbean literary form.

Many a Sunday afternoon, when the older folk in pursuit of quality programmes would tune in to the BBC on their `Grundig’ radios, the little children would listen to the story of `B. Wordsworth’ whose pathos and simple beauty of language would ignite their imagination and help instil in them a love of literature. Later on, Naipaul’s classic ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ would etch on the still youthful minds, the author’s passion for recreating the texture and tenor of a family’s existence in a specific society at a particular time.

A Jamaican author once described ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ as one of the most technically perfect tomes seen in the region, while a Guyanese writer at the same forum deemed it the Caribbean’s answer to the novels of Charles Dickens. But Naipaul did not stop at novels. He wrote a number of travel books based on his journeys to many countries and cultures of the world.

As a Nobel Laureate, Naipaul joins an exclusive club of Latin-American and Caribbean writers, who were honoured with Nobel prizes. In 1971, Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda was awarded the prize “for a poetry that brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian author famous for his magical realism style, was accorded the Nobel Literature Prize in 1982 for “his novels and short stories in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”. In 1990, Mexican poet and social essayist was honoured with the Nobel. When, in 1992, St Lucian-born Derek Walcott was named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the whole region celebrated.

Walcott, who lived for many years in Trinidad and Tobago was famous for his poetry and his plays, which evoke the cultural diversity of the Caribbean. Amazingly, Walcott was the second Nobel Laureate of St Lucia. The first to be so honoured was Sir Arthur Lewis, who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in economic sciences with Theodore W. Schultz “for their pioneering research into economic development research with particular consideration of the problems of developing countries.”

For those who admire and cherish V.S. Naipaul’s early writings, it was somewhat disconcerting to learn in the 1980s of Naipaul’s dislike of his homeland Trinidad, and his ‘repulsion towards Negroes’. However, his preferences do not in any way diminish his stature as a great writer neither can they subtract any aspect of the humanity and sensitivity with which he penned those memorable works. So today, we join with the rest of the world to pay homage to a Caribbean son and to applaud him for bringing literary recognition to the New World and its diverse peoples.