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Reading and Writing: A Personal Account [Hardcover]

V.S. Naipaul
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Book Description

Feb. 28 2000
I was eleven, no more, when the wish came to me to be a writer; and then very soon it was a settled ambition. But for the young V. S. Naipaul, there was a great distance between the wish and its fulfillment. To become a writer, he would have to find ways of understanding three very different cultures: his family's half-remembered Indian homeland, the West Indian colonial society in which he grew up, and the wholly foreign world of the English novels he read.

In this essay of literary autobiography, V. S. Naipaul sifts through memories of his childhood in Trinidad, his university days in England, and his earliest attempts at writing, seeking the experiences of life and reading that shaped his imagination and his growth as a writer. He pays particular attention to the traumas of India under its various conquerors and the painful sense of dereliction and loss that shadows writers' attempts to capture the country and its people in prose.

Naipaul's profound reflections on the relations between personal or historical experience and literary form, between the novel and the world, reveal how he came to discover both his voice and the subjects of his writing, and how he learned to turn sometimes to fiction, sometimes to the travel narrative, to portray them truthfully. Along the way he offers insights into the novel's prodigious development as a form for depicting and interpreting society in the nineteenth century and its diminishing capacity to do the same in the twentiethÑa task that, in his view, passed to the creative energies of the early cinema.

As a child trying to read, I had felt that two worlds separated me from the books that were offered to me at school and in the libraries: the childhood world of our remembered India, and the more colonial world of our city. ... What I didn't know, even after I had written my early books of fiction ... was that those two spheres of darkness had become my subject. Fiction, working its mysteries, by indirections finding directions out, had led me to my subject. But it couldn't take me all the way. -V.S. Naipaul, from Reading & Writing

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From Library Journal

Naipaul started his literary career writing comic novels set in Trinidad. Then he progressed to probing travel narratives. Recently, he published correspondence with his family (Between Father and Son: Family Letters, LJ 1/00). This slim volume, which contains two essays that originally appeared in 1999 in the New York Review of Books, traces his evolution as a writer. In the first essay, he reflects on the various literary influences and circumstances that shaped his career. In the second, he ruminates on what prevented him from writing a novel set in India, the land of his forebears. When he argues that "fiction works best in a confined moral and cultural area where the rules are generally known," Naipaul suggests that the heyday of the novel is long past. Naipaul writes with clarity, and his arguments are persuasive; one wishes that he had expanded further on his literary theories. Recommended for comprehensive collections of Naipaul's writings.DRavi Shenoy, North Central Coll. Lib., Naperville, IL
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Born and educated in Trinidad, V.S. Naipaul (b. 1932) settled in England after winning a scholarship to Oxford. The author of numerous successful novels including A House for Mr. Biswas and A Bend in the River, he was awarded the Booker Prize for In a Free State, which explores the problems of nationality and personal identity. Political violence, homelessness, and alienation are recurrent themes in his novels. Naipaul's non fiction includes an Indian travel anthology and several political essays.

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Customer Reviews

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3.0 out of 5 stars The author as an enigma Nov. 7 2002
I was introduced to V.S. Naipaul a number of years ago principally through his non-fiction. He is an elegant writer with unique perspective and insights. Although his unusual background is well-known to his audience, the first half of this spare book (64 pages) focuses on how his desire to become a writer ultimately developed substance. There are some wonderful passages about his father's habit of reading portions of books to his son that emphasized the particular qualities or character of the author. I found myself wanting to learn more about this relationship because it seems that it explains a good deal about Naipual's interests and his style.
The second portion of the book is a bit more disjointed. It opens with Naipaul speaking about the two Indias: the political India (of Ghandi and the freedom movement) and the personal India (of his grandparents)and how it has been represented in literature and how that representation misses the essence of the country. The final portion is an interesting analysis of the evolution of the novel and how Naipaul views it as a derivative form that is nearing the end of what it can do.
The first half of the boook was the most valuable to me as it added to my understanding of the writer and his craft and particularly about Naipaul as an artist. If you enjoy his work this should be of interest to you.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Reding and Writing By V.S. Naipaul July 9 2000
'Reading and Writing ' by V. S. Naipaul ( Pub. New York Review Of Books ,2000) A review by V. Ramsamooj Gosine.
In spite of its brevity, Reading and Writing ' by V.S.Naipaul is compulsive reading for anyone who is interested in the development of this writer and by extension other writers.
This short work of non-fiction ( 64 pages), examines critically the strands of history which have shaped and reshaped Naipaul's thoughts and ideas . For example, Naipaul pays glowing tribute to his father whom he saw writing patiently and enthusiastically. Little Vidia listened to his father read stories and this greatly influenced him . So much was Vidia influenced that at age 11 he had already decided that he wanted to become a writer. It was a noble thing and he wanted to be part of it.The book also sifts through memories of his childhood, his days at Oxford, and his earliest attempts at writing. We are all influenced by the landscape we grew up in. It is an inescapable fact and Naipaul is now sharing that experience with his readers, at the same time, he is looking at the material from a distance.
This reviewer would have preferred a longer work in which Naipaul develops his major concerns on which his imagination fed: the Ramlila of The Ramayan, his anthology of Literature, his father's love for books which he got Naipaul interested in , Mr Worm, his primary school teacher, and the cinema. The basic themes are there and only readers who are acquainted with the material could readily understand the discussion. Those who have lived outside the colonial system would have certain problems.
Not surprisingly, Naipaul thinks that education ( in his days ) produced only crammers , not real thinking men.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Random April 11 2002
By Ryan
I listened to Naipaul's nobel lecture, and found many of the things he touched on in that speech echoed in this short work. Naipaul speaks at length about growing up in Trinidad, and of the people he encounters. He speaks about his education. He also speaks about his father's short stories. Reading this book gives one a good sense of what led Naipaul to his first novels, as well as what led him to his later ones. The somewhat puzzling ending wraps up the writer's pessimism re: the future of the novel, which I found disingenuous. It's both unconvincing and the ultimate ingratitude to the form that won him the Nobel Prize.
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