The Nobel prize winning author Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul has died in his home in London. He was 85. Naipaul’s family confirmed on Saturday that the literary icon had passed away. His wife, Lady Naipaul, said that her husband had died peacefully. “He was a giant in all that he achieved and he died surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavour,” she said.
Naipaul was born in Trinidad and was known for his complex portrayal of race and the legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean. He won the Nobel prize for his lifetime of writing about suppressed, minority voices.
Here’s what you need to know about VS Naipaul.
1. Naipaul Was Born in Trinidad to a Family of Indian Origins
Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad in 1932. He was the second-generation of his family to be born in Trinidad; his grandparents, like many Indians of their generation, left their home and migrated to the Caribbean.
Naipaul’s family was a prosperous, Brahmin family, and Naipaul was educated to a very high level. He attended Queen’s Royal College, Trinidad, before going on to study in England at University College, Oxford. As a student, he suffered from depression and even attempted suicide. But he settled in London after graudation, and found work with the BBC on their Caribbean Voices program.
Naipaul was married twice. His first wife, His first wife, Patricia Hale, died in 1996. He later married a Pakistani journalist, Nadira.
2. Naipaul Wrote Extensively About Class and Race in Trinidad, But Many Have Critiqued Him For His Insensitive Statements About the West Indies
Naipaul was fiercely individualistic as a writer, and always resisted being labeled. Still, his novels were often concerned with the history of Trinidad in particular, and the West Indies in general. His early works are funny, satirical examinations of manners and class in Trinidad’s very stratified society. His later works, like A Bend in the River, look at the impact of colonialization on the West Indies.
Naipaul came under fire several times for some of his statements about his homeland. He liked to refer to Caribbean (and other third world) societies as being “half-formed,” and he often criticized the shortcomings of colonized countries. He once wrote, famously, that “nothing was ever produced in the West Indies.” This wasn’t a stray statement — it was a passage in his 1962 novel, The Middle Passage, which examines the legacy of slavery in the Americas.
Many people were angered and offended at this statement, which they took to mean that Naipaul was praising the British colonial government of Trinidad and putting down his fellow Trinidadians as incompetent.
3. Naipaul Came Under Fire For Some of His Statements on Islam
In 1981, Naipaul published a book called Among the Believers, which dealt with the repercussions of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The novel won Naipaul the Jerusalem Prize in 1981, and it won some praise in literary circles. But Among the Believers also angered many readers, especially Muslims. You can read a portion of the novel here.
Years later, Naipaul’s wife, Lady Naipaul, was still trying to defend her husband against critics who believed that he had taken cheap shots at Islam. You can read some of her defense of Naipaul here.
4. Naipaul Won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001
Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize, the literary world’s most coveted award, in 2001. The Nobel academy said the prize was awarded “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”.
In his acceptance speech, Naipaul talked about his deep sense of loneliness and about the feeling that he could never go home again, since the Trinidad he grew up in had changed beyond recognition. Naipaul said that in order to cope with his loneliness, he had taken refuge into books; writing was his means of dealing with pain. He said, ‘Everything of value about me is in my books,’ he said. ‘I am the sum of my books… I feel that at any stage of my literary career it could have been said that the last book contained all the others.’
Naipaul received many honors throughout his lifetime. In 1989, he was knighted. In 1993 he won the prestigious David Cohen Award for a lifetime’s achievement by a living British writer.
5. Naipaul’s Family Said He Passed Away Peacefully, Surrounded by Loved Ones
For many years, Naipaul had made his home in London. He was 85 years old when he passed away.
His family did not immediately announce Naipaul’s cause of death. But on Saturday, Naipaul’s wife, Lady Nadira Naipaul, released a statement which said, “He was a giant in all that he achieved and he died surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavour.”