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Posts Tagged ‘V. S. Naipaul’

The Tyranny of Footnotes

February 21, 2012 | by

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.

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 »

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Vile Bodies, or Bad Sex Virgins

December 14, 2011 | by

Hendrick Goltzius, The Fall of Man, 1616, oil on canvas. Courtesy The National Gallery of Art.

We have to get our stories straight, she and I, but first we have to get John Updike’s stories straight. I have just bought the Everyman edition of The Maples Stories, and I am trying to describe to my date the arc of the Maples’ marriage and why I think these stories are successfully erotic, how they bring the best out of Updike.

I am actually talking about myself, about all the stuff I’ve read, but that’s okay. As last of the male narcissists, Updike would understand. She understands. We are both rehearsing our lines for the evening over a curry somewhere in North London. It is exceptionally, reproachfully cold, and neither of us feels particularly well-equipped to withstand the inclement weather. My shirt makes me look like a Bond villain and feels like a rumpled parachute. The curry is the wrong kind of hot. She asks the most difficult question of all.

“How are you going to pass me off?”

I struggle to reply. She is both my date and not my date. She is the girlfriend of an old friend, and I have been instructed to show her a good time, in return for temporary London accommodation. I am being conspicuously trusted. We are getting to know each other, having only met twice before tonight, but I must be very transparent because she quickly settles on an apt description of our relationship.

“I know,” she says, patting me gently on the arm, “we’ll say I’m your chaperone.”

She makes me sound like a debutante and, in a sense, this is accurate. This is the first time I have attended the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, but the same is true for her. Read More »

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Aamer Hussein on ‘The Cloud Messenger’

October 18, 2011 | by

Aamer Hussein, courtesy of the writer.

Though The Cloud Messenger is Aamer Hussein’s first novel, it comes after five collections of stories and a novella, Another Gulmohar Tree. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, but a long-time resident of London, Hussein has dramatized the sorts of encounters between and within cultures that reflect his own facility in seven languages. He writes with intelligent restraint about the experience of displacement, but also the indelible richness of wherever we like to think of as home. The Cloud Messenger draws on his own unsentimental education as a student of Farsi to create a romance about language and the unexpected life that reading and translating can take. Last year, we met to discuss the Granta anthology of writing from and about Pakistan at his home in West London.

Could you begin by explaining your background?

I’m from Karachi, third-generation in almost an accidental way, because both my grandfather and father were born there, even though they hadn’t lived there very much until after partition because of certain historical … mishaps, you might say. My mother is from Northern India and from a much more traditional family, although her father was an academic.Read More »

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On the Shelf

June 15, 2011 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • Legendary travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor died this week at ninety-six. Described by the BBC as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene,” Fermor authored twelve books and numerous articles. A BBC tribute gives him his due.
  • Australian minister for small businesses Nick Sherry has declared that the bookstore is doomed. Speaking in Canberra, the politician declared, “I think in five years, other than a few specialty bookshops in capital cities, you will not see a bookstore. They will cease to exist because of what’s happening with Internet-based, Web-based distribution ... What’s occurring now is an exponential take-off—we’ve reached a tipping point.”
  • Not one but two prominent “lesbian bloggers” are revealed to, in fact, be straight men.
  • Francine Prose and Keri Hulme have sharp words for Naipaul.
  • Rehabilitating the original “Uncle Tom.”
  • Murakami publicly criticizes Japan’s nuclear policy.
  • The return of Batgirl.
  • Actor Mark Rylance quotes poet Louis Jenkins in his Tony acceptance speech.
  • Werner Herzog will narrate an audio version of surprise-hit “bedtime story” Go the Fuck to Sleep.
  • The 100 greatest nonfiction books?
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    Staff Picks: Sleepless in a Sleeper, Murdered Beavers

    October 1, 2010 | by

    I have been reading Richard Holmes’s Footsteps. If you're ever sleepless on a sleeper train at two o’clock in the morning crossing southern Illinois (or shunning breakfast conversation in the diner six hours later), I recommend it. —Lorin Stein

    George Saunders’s masterful short story “Commcomm” in The New Yorker. An acidic workplace satire that somehow free-falls into a Christian redemption myth. Plus, it features one of fiction’s most memorable headlines: MURDERED BEAVERS SPEAK OF AIR FORCE CRUELTY. —Kate Waldman

    I reread Mrs. Dalloway last Sunday. Kept coming back to parts of it all week, underlying here, circling there. This line sticks out to me today: “For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house ...” —Thessaly La Force

    After seeing a selection of Stones, the late-fifties lithographic collaboration between Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara, in a sneak preview of MoMA’s new “Abstract Expressionist New York” exhibition, I’ve been perusing my much-thumbed copy of O’Hara’s Collected Poems and the wonderful In Memory of My Feelings, a collection of poem-paintings (originally created in 1967) that pairs O’Hara’s verse with works of art by more than two dozen of his contemporaries. O’Hara worked as a staff member and curator at the Museum of Modern Art during much of the fifties and early sixties, when many of the works in this show were being created. It’s perfect that his art is there among them. —Nicole Rudick

    In lower moments, I have also been relishing David Rakoff’s essay collection Half Empty. Tough, suave, dry, and very funny. —L. S.

    This week, two articles have been helping me think through the dreary and troubling sameness at the core of today’s “diverse,” “multicultural” literary community: Tim Parks’s cogent piece in The New York Review of Books and Evert Cilliers’s flawed but stimulating polemic at 3quarksdaily. —Mark de Silva

    I revisited Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, which explores the repercussions of pain's inexpressibility. It dredged up memories of emergency-room visits past, when the doctor entreats you to describe your pain on a scale of one to ten. “A three?” I would say, unconvincingly. As Scarry points out, pain (sadly) can only be expressed by its agents— the hammer, the burning flame, the wrenching wrench. —Alexandra Zukerman

    My friend gave me When You Reach Me because the main character and I have the same first name, but that's by no means the only reason to read this excellent novel. Sure, it's a children’s book, but its themes—the fumbling processes by which we attempt to assert independence; the challenges of expressing affection; that moment when you begin to understand how things work—remain resonant. Bonus: It's also about time travel, and the chapters are very short—perfect for brief subway rides and five-minute waits. —Miranda Popkey

    Hurry! The Naipauls are coming to dinner. —David Wallace-Wells

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