Indian-origin Nobel laureate Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul died on August 11, 2018 at the age of 85. His most famous work is A House for Mr. Biswas.
Like the great masters of the past, Naipaul told stories which showed us ourselves and the reality we live in. His use of language was precise, simple and strong.
Sir Vidia, as he was sometimes known after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990, maintained universalism as his guiding philosophy.
Naipaul had married Patricia Hale, an Englishwoman he had met at Oxford, but their relationship was puzzling to outsiders, and the couple never had children.
In 1996, two months after the death of his first wife, Naipaul married Nadira Khannum Alvi, a divorced Pakistani journalist more than 20 years his junior.
Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2001, lauded by the Nobel committee “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”.
In himself, Naipaul was a private man, who lived in England in order to have the solitude for thinking and writing.
Naipaul was born on Aug. 17, 1932, in Chaguanas, Trinidad, where his paternal grandfather had emigrated from India in the 1880s to work on the sugar plantations.
His first novel, The Mystic Masseur (1957), about Ganesh Ramsumair, a failed schoolteacher who becomes a masseur and later guru and politician in Trinidad.
His earliest books included The Suffrage of Elvira, 1958; and Miguel Street, 1959. His fourth novel, A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), set in Trinidad, was a much more important work and won him major recognition.
The three stories in In a Free State (1971), which won Britain’s Booker Prize, are set in various countries; Guerrillas (1975) is a despairing look at an abortive uprising on a Caribbean island; and A Bend in the River (1979) pessimistically examines the uncertain future of a newly independent state in Central Africa.
A Way in the World (1994) is an essay-like novel examining how history forms individuals’ characters. Naipaul’s other novels include The Mimic Men (1967) and The Enigma of Arrival (1987).
Among Naipaul’s nonfiction works are three studies of India, An Area of Darkness (1965), India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990); The Five Societies—British, French, and Dutch—in the West Indies (1963); and Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981).
In 1998, he published Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples, a portrayal of the Islamic faith in the lives of ordinary people in Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Naipaul’s Half a Life (2001) is a novel about an Indian immigrant to England and then Africa. Released the year that Naipaul received the Nobel Prize, Half a Life was considered by many critics to illustrate beautifully the reasons that he won the prize.
Subsequent works include The Writer and the World (2002) and Literary Occasions (2003), both collections of previously published essays.
The novel Magic Seeds (2004) is a sequel to Half a Life. In The Masque of Africa (2010)—which was based on his travels in Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa—Naipaul returned to his exploration of religion, focusing on African beliefs.