Nobel Prize-winning author V. S. Naipaul dies at 85

V.S. Naipaul, who won the Booker Prize in 1971 for In A Free State, died “surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavor,” said his wife Lady Nadira Naipaul late Saturday.

Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul began writing novels while at Oxford University on scholarship in the 1950s and spent much of his time traveling and describing what he called a lack of roots.

His early works focused on the West Indies, culminating in his 1961 breakthrough novel A House for Mr. Biswas, a tragicomic story of a Brahmin Indian living in Trinidad searching for independence and identity.

Although his writing was praised for its compassion toward the destitute, he was later criticized by colleagues, including Trinidadian writer C. L. R. James, for espousing “what whites want to say but dare not.”

One-time literary friend, American writer Paul Theroux, published a stinging memoir about Naipaul in 1998. They later resolved their differences.

His death was met with tributes from many literary colleagues. Among them was Salman Rushdie, who said he was “sad as if [he had] just lost a beloved older brother.”

‘Literary circumnavigator’

Among Naipaul’s 30 books were several non-fiction works including Among the Believers, published in 1981, in which he warned about radical Islamic fundamentalism.

He once likened former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a pirate at the head of a socialist revolution.

Naipaul’s ire also focused on corruption in Indian politics, the West’s cynical treatment of its former colonies and the cult of personality, in the last The Return of Eva Peron

He was famously outspoken and had a reputation for cutting people out of his life. “My life is short. I can’t listen to banalities,” he once said. He was also disparaging about “sentimental” female novelists. On his departure from Trinidad at the age of 18, he told an interviewer in 1983: “I was born there, yes. I thought it was a great mistake.”

Naipaul was knighted in 1990, and when awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize for literature, the Swedish Academy described him as a “literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice.”

ipj/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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