October 27, 2010 / 9:11 PM / in 8 years

V.S. Naipaul hangs up travel hat after Africa book

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At 78, author V.S. Naipaul’s traveling days are over.

Visibly emotional writer Sir V.S. Naipaul waits to receive his Nobel prize for literature at Stockholm's Konserthuset from Sweden's King Carl Gustaf December 10, 2001. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

The Nobel Laureate has wandered the world for over 50 years, chronicling the views and faiths of ordinary people in more than 30 works of fiction and nonfiction; but now, asthmatic and unsteady on his feet, it is time to stop.

His latest book on African beliefs and religion, “The Masque of Africa,” is likely the last leg of a journey that has taken him from his native Trinidad to England and later to India, Iran, Malaysia and many other places.

“I am too old to do another book of this type. It was a great strain,” Naipaul told Reuters in New York. Being loaded into an African wheelbarrow when his legs gave out on a walk in Gabon is the kind of experience he would rather not repeat.

“Africa is not a fun place, you know. A fun place is somewhere that lifts the spirits, that cossets the senses. I don’t think that can be said of the Africa I traveled in.”

In Britain, his latest book has received some scathing reviews for its depiction of Africans, their rituals and behavior.

The literary world has become increasingly uncomfortable with Naipaul and his politics and his cold, uncompromising views on Africa and Islam. He has been described, among many other things, as a colonialist apologist and a racist.

“The political reviews, they are about me. In a way my reputation has become that of the curmudgeon,” he said.

His 1981 book “Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey,” revealed the emergence of a dangerous, fundamentalist Islam. It was rejected by many intellectuals as hard-line and one-sided.

But the September 11 attacks on New York City by Islamic fundamentalists in 2001 vindicated him, he believes. “I saw this calamity coming, but no one was interested,” he says.


A frank, authorized biography of Naipaul released in 2008 revealed his visits to prostitutes, ill-treatment of his late first wife Patricia and violent sexual conduct toward his mistress Margaret Gooding. At one point, over the course of two days, he beat Gooding so much that his hand swelled up.

The biography turned many people against Naipaul and put him on the defensive. He refuses to talk about it.

Nor will he discuss reviews of his books. “I haven’t come to see you to defend my work,” Naipaul said, warning that he recently left an interview when a journalist cited a review.

Only the placating presence of his second wife, Nadira, and perhaps his old legs, seemed to stop him leaving this time.

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul has earned his “curmudgeon” status over a career in which he refused to suffer fools, has spoken his thoughts — often stinging — and fallen out with many fellow authors.

A bitter feud with travel writer Paul Theroux was thrown into the open in Theroux’s scathing 1998 memoir about Naipaul, depicting him as a misogynist, a bully and an egomaniac.

But his reputation has not hampered his career. He has received nearly every literary award worth winning — including the Nobel Prize in 2001.

Born in Trinidad in 1932 into an Indian family, Naipaul was raised in relative poverty. He moved to England at 18 after receiving a scholarship to University College, Oxford. He received a knighthood in 1989 and still lives in England.

He is most thoughtful looking back on his career, remembering what writing has given him. “When I learnt to write I became my own master, I became very strong, and that strength is with me to this very day.”

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Eric Walsh

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