February 21, 2012 | by Paul Wachter
Although V. S. Naipaul is my favorite living writer, I resisted reading Patrick French’s critically acclaimed biography of Sir Vidia, published in 2008, until last month. The reviews alone presented a deeply unflattering picture: Naipaul as misogynist, racist, skinflint, serial adulterer, and Hindu nationalist. (And to think the biography was authorized!)
But I had read nearly all of Naipaul’s work and some of it, including his best novel, A Bend in the River (from whose opening line, “The world is what it is,” French takes his title), many times. So when I happened across the biography at my local library, I picked it up thinking it was as close to a new work of Naipaul’s as I was likely to see.
It’s a masterful effort, a nimble admixture of critical appreciation and salacious gossip. But there were no real surprises in the text; the reviews had limned the most revealing and unsettling episodes of Naipaul’s life.
There was, however, a surprise buried in French’s acknowledgments. Among the hundred-odd names, sandwiched between Derek Walcott (Naipaul’s fellow Trinidadian and rival of sorts) and Andrew Wylie (Naipaul’s agent), was one Kanye West.
Now it’s true that the rapper-producer’s father is a former Black Panther, and Naipaul wrote an essay “Michael X and the Black Power Killings in Trinidad.” And West’s late mother was an English professor. Was it possible that Naipaul and West shared a connection beyond their inflated egos?
I e-mailed French. Read More »
December 28, 2011 | by Ramona Ausubel
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
For generous donations in support of their preservation, the animal mummies wish to thank the Institute for Unforbidden Geology, the Society for Extreme Egyptology, the Secret Chambers of the Sanctuary of Thoth Club, and President Hosni Mubarak, who may seem to have been around a long time, though not from a mummy’s point of view. They wish to thank the visitors who make it to this often-skipped corner of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, which bears none of the treasure of King Tut’s tomb. And to the British colonial government, without whom the animal mummies might still be at rest, deep in granite tombs, cool and silent.
They would like to thank Hassan Massri of Cairo, Alistair Trembley of London, and Doris and Herbert Friedberg of Scarsdale, New York, for their support of climate-controlled cases to house the animal mummies for the rest of time. The animal mummies will admit they are somewhat surprised that this is what the afterlife has turned out to be: oak and glass cases, Windexed daily; a small room, tile floor, chipping paint; the smell of dust and old wood. Even for the permanently preserved, the future is full of surprises.
The animal mummies wish to thank their mothers—and their fathers, but mostly their mothers. Gauzy now, two thousand years later, they still remember being licked and suckled. The vole mummies remember the feel of their mothers' teeth grazing—painlessly, absentmindedly—across small, tufted cheeks. To be a vole like this, forever, unendingly as the vole mummies are, is to know humility. No one asks to be born a vole. No one dreams of millennia of voledom. The vole mummies would like to thank everyone who, through these drawn-out centuries, has not confused them with moles, muskrats, mice, or shrews. They would like it noted that they are proud to have been small enough to hide beneath the bed listening with their soft round ears to the pharaoh and the queen rattling toward a different kind of eternity. In their memories, they are a mighty brigade, moving soundlessly through the kingdom, pawing tubers on the banks of the Nile.