Naipaul's Truths. (Excerpt)

Article excerpt

Last December, on the day after being presented with the Nobel Prize for literature, V. S. Naipaul sat down in Stockholm for a televised conversation with three fellow literary laureates, Guner Grass, Nadine Gordimer, and Seamus Heaney and with Per Wastberg, a member of the Swedish Academy. One might have expected that the topic under discussion would be writing and literature, but the Nobelists soon turned to politics. Naipaul, alone in resisting this direction, protested that he is not political: 1-le just writes about people. "Perhaps that's too frivolous," he suggested slyly. Gordimer, perhaps failing to understand that there was more than a little irony in the air, and that in Naipaul's view writing about people, far from being frivolous, is in fact precisely what a serious writer does, was quick to challenge his self-characterization, insisting: "Your very existence as a boy living under colonial rule in Trinidad was political!"

This was, needless to say, meant as praise. To many members of the literary (and academic) establishment, after all, colonialism is the paramount literary theme and political issue of our time, and to be a child growing up in a colonial setting is to fill a strictly defined role in a familiar morality play. …