Sir Vidia’s Trinidadian Readers

I really enjoyed David Shaftel’s essay on how V.S. Naipaul is read and interpreted in his native Trinidad. The piece appeared last Sunday in the New York Times Book Review, but, between my novel and my teaching, it’s taking me several days to catch up on reading. Here is the opening paragraph:

If the measure of a writer’s success is the ire he provokes, then V. S. Naipaul is a spectacular success in Trinidad. In this island nation of just over a million people, there is a widespread perception that he has jilted his homeland through unflattering portraits in his books and a string of cutting remarks over the years. “History is built around achievement and creation; and nothing was created in the West Indies,” Naipaul wrote in “The Middle Passage” (1962) — the first sign that he wasn’t going to play the proud native son. A fresher wound came in 2001, when Naipaul omitted any mention of Trinidad from his initial press release after winning the Nobel Prize, which many here saw as a deliberate rebuff. And last year, during a visit sponsored by the University of the West Indies, Naipaul more than lived up to his reputation for cantankerousness, prompting disapproving press coverage after he snapped at a group of students at a Hindu girls’ high school.

Despite the cantankerousness, I’d say it’s still a semi-sympathetic portrait of Naipaul.