Born in Trinidad of Indian descent, a resident of England for his entire adult life, and a prodigious traveler, V. S. Naipaul has always faced the challenges of “fitting one civilization to another.” Here, he takes us into his sometimes inadvertent process of creative and intellectual assimilation, which has shaped both his writing and his life.
In a probing narrative that is part meditation and part remembrance, Naiapul discusses the writers to whom he was exposed early on and his first encounters with literary culture. He looks at what we have retained and what we have forgotten of the classical world, and he illuminates the ways in which Indian writers such as Gandhi and Nehru both reveal and conceal themselves and their nation. Full of humor and privileged insight, this is an eloquent, intimate exploration into the configuration of a writer’s mind.
Naipaul does not consider himself just a writer, but something grander and more ambitious. His stated project is "fitting one civilization to another." And he ranges far. The subjects in his new book include Flaubert's relation to antiquity in his historical novel Salammbo, the classical Roman historians, Buddhism, and the history of the British empire, as well as memoirs of writers who influenced him, like his fellow Trinidadian (and fellow Nobel Prize winner) Derek Walcott; the British novelist Anthony Powell, who befriended Naipaul a few years after what he sardonically refers to as "my bright boy's scholarship" got him to Oxford, and whom Naipaul repays with an extremely unflattering portrait; and the great Indian memoirist Nirad Chaudhuri. The result is a bracing, erudite ride, but also a bumpy one.