V.S. Naipaul and the West Indies

V.S. Naipaul and the West Indies

V.S. Naipaul and the West Indies

V.S. Naipaul and the West Indies

Excerpt

Trinidadian born Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was already internationally recognized in the mid 1960's when in Saraswat High School at West Coast Demerara, Guyana (then British Guiana), my classmates and I were studying George Eliot's Silas Marner for our London administered General Certificate of Education examination (GCE). In colonial Guiana it was more important to study British history, not West Indian slavery or indentureship; to speak and write standard English, not the language of our fore-fathers; and to know English literature and Eliot, not Caribbean literature and Naipaul. Thus, we could not have conceived of a West Indian novel written by a local writer. Many of us who left Guyana to further our studies abroad departed without ever having heard of Naipaul. Corner bookshops, as Naipaul himself often mentions, were non-existent; in addition, the Georgetown Public Library was not easily accessible to rural residents. It was not until the early 1970's during my undergraduate period at Howard University in Washington, D.C.--with Naipaul far from his home too in another foreign capital, London--that I read The Middle Passage and was introduced to this author, whose writings have since captured my interest.

My continuing interest in Naipaul's work and my enthusiasm for investigating the West Indian response to this writer extend beyond my fascination at the late discovery that there can, after all, be a successful novel with West Indian characters, written by a West Indian. Unlike Naipaul's, the end paper of my copy of Kennedy Revised Latin Primer contains no written resolution to leave the West Indies within a certain number of years, but it is a familiar vow, one that I, too, driven by similar circumstances, repeatedly made orally. For I share with Naipaul the same social, cultural, and political experiences which permeate his works, and for this reason he appeals to me. Although Naipaul hails from a Hindu family in Trinidad and I from a Moslem one in Guyana, we are both West Indians of East Indian descent. We grew up in two British multiracial colonies, which shared a common history and which were beset by the same problems and tensions. The characters in Miguel Street are people similar to those that I have known; the Indian world in the colonial society of Ganesh Ramsumair in The Mystic Masseur is the world in which I grew up; the racial and religious maneuverings in Trinidad's elections in The Suffrage of Elvira are the ploys I witnessed during general elections in Guyana in the 1960's; the lifestyle of the Indian enclave in A House for Mr Biswas is one, although a fading one, with which I have had first hand experience (my grandmother's house accommodated three other families with problems similar to those of the Tulsis and . . .

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