PASSING OF CELEBRATED AUTHOR REVIVES DEBATE OVER POSTCOLONIAL VIEWS
“V.S. Naipaul’s legacy is complex – but his writing must be celebrated,” writes essayist Amit Chaudhuri. “His comments about Islam, women and Africa were often unjustified, unpleasant and untrue – but that can be acknowledged alongside his gifts.”
Novelist Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, known as V.S. Naipaul, passed this month at age 85. Born in Chaguanas, Trinidad, in 1932, he wrote more than 30 books including A Bend in the River and his masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas.
A pioneer of postcolonial literature, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.
“He brought news of unexplored landscapes from a previously unseen point of view and was a trailblazer for those who followed him on this path,” wrote Christian Lorentzen in the online “Vulture”.
“But in his novels and books of journalism beginning in the mid-1960s, he entered a political phase that put him on the side of reaction.”
Edward Said, founder of the field of postcolonial studies, was less forgiving. “Naipaul gave ‘Third Worldism’ a bad name. He didn’t deny that terrible things had happened (under colonialism) in such places as the Congo, but he attributed it to an idealism of effort followed by monstrous post-colonial abuse. King Leopold was probably not much worse than Mobutu, or Idi Amin, or Mugabe, he suggested, and he allowed one to think it.”
Naipaul was a lightning rod for criticism, say his critics, particularly by those who read his portrayals of Third World disarray as apologies for colonialism. But others say he was unsparing, both of the arrogance and self-aggrandizement of the colonizers as well as the self-deception and ethical ambiguities of the liberation movements that swept across Africa and the Caribbean in their wake.
For his first nonfiction book, The Middle Passage (1962), Mr. Naipaul returned to the West Indies. He charted racial tensions in Trinidad; analyzed the cultural “mimicry” he saw as central to colonial identity; and observed that the smaller Caribbean islands “in the name of tourism, are selling themselves into a new slavery.”
Remembrances of the controversial author have been filling social media. Salman Rushdie said he was “as sad as if I just lost a beloved older brother”.
American travel writer Paul Theroux said: “He will go down as one of the greatest writers of our time.”