Naipaul, Shiva 1945–1985
Naipaul, Shiva 1945–1985
(Shivadhar Srinivasa Naipaul)
PERSONAL: Born February 25, 1945, in Port of Spain, Trinidad (now Republic of Trinidad and Tobago); died of a heart attack, August 13, 1985, in London, England; son of Seepersad and Dropatie Naipaul; married Virginia Margaret Stuart, 1967; children: one. Education: Attended University College, Oxford, 1964–68.
CAREER: Writer. Lecturer at Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark, 1972.
MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize and Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, both 1970, and Jock Campbell New Statesman Award, 1971, all for Fireflies; Whitbread Literary Award, 1973, for The Chip-Chip Gatherers.
Fireflies (novel), Deutsch (London, England), 1970, Knopf (New York, NY), 1971.
The Chip-Chip Gatherers (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.
North of South: An African Journey (nonfiction), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
Black and White (nonfiction), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1980, published as Journey to Nowhere: A New World Tragedy, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
A Hot Country (novel), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1983, published as Love and Death in a Hot Country, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Beyond the Dragon's Mouth (stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
An Unfinished Journey (nonfiction), Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Contributor of short stories to anthologies, including Penguin Modern Stories 4, Penguin, 1970, and Winter's Tales 20, Macmillan (London, England), 1974. Contributor of articles to Times Literary Supplement, London Magazine, New Statesman, and Spectator.
SIDELIGHTS: The younger brother of writer V.S. Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, an Indian born in Trinidad, established himself as a critically acclaimed author with his first novel, Fireflies. Set in a Trinidadian Hindu community, Fireflies describes the demise of that community's leaders, the Khoja family, who lose their elevated stature as a result of intrafamily squabbles, arranged and loveless marriages, poor education, and undisciplined and futile attempts to reach goals beyond their grasp. "There is unusually little in Shiva Naipaul's Fireflies to lead one to suppose that it is his first novel," wrote Stephen Wall in the London Observer. "It is hard to wish any particular episode away once it has been read." In the New York Times Book Review, critic Annette Grant deemed Fireflies "a remarkable and vivid portrait of an exotic, highly special tribe, the Hindus of Trinidad—who, like most people, are fundamentally unremarkable, but who under examination exhibit a full and rich spectrum of human possibilities." "That the details do fascinate," Grant added, "is a tribute both to the author's invention and to his subject."
Like Fireflies, Naipaul's second novel, The Chip-Chip Gatherers, is set in Trinidad and examines family relationships, this time between two very different families, the affluent Ramsarans and the less prestigious Bholais. Although brought together by marriage, the clans are never able to put aside their differences and work together for their common good. Therefore their association serves no purpose; it is as futile as the work of the village peasants who comb the beach to find the tiny shellfish chip-chip, a bucket of which might provide only a mouthful of meat.
Finding The Chip-Chip Gatherers "compelling," A.L. Hendricks in a Christian Science Monitor review judged Naipaul to be "a skillful storyteller" who "wastes no words on elaborate descriptions or philosophizing, but lets his characters make his point. He draws them sympathetically and yet never loses his artistic detachment." In his New Statesman critique Martin Amis predicted that Naipaul's "next novels will establish him as one of the most accomplished, and most accessible, writers of his generation."
Naipaul's six-month trek through Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia inspired his next book, North of South: An African Journey. In this volume the author recorded his day-to-day observations of Africa in what critic John Darnton in the New York Times Book Review dubbed "the genre of travelogue cum essay." Naipaul relates his experiences of African life as he viewed it in cafes and buses, schools and homes, and through encounters with merchants, farmers, educators, and others. What impressed him most during his stay in Africa was the extent of European influence on African mores and customs.
Critics found North of South to be an interesting and well-written account of African ways, but not necessarily an unbiased and accurate observation. Darnton noted some "striking inaccuracies" and wrote that the citizens Naipaul profiles "are hardly the defining personalities in Africa today." Darnton nevertheless opined that North of South is "superbly written." Critic Roland Oliver also found North of South lacking in some areas. In his New Statesman review Oliver called Naipaul's effort "a witty but not wise book" that "is more informative about touts and tourists, pimps and prostitutes, than about national and international politics of the East African countries…. All this is told with a great deal of novelist's sparkle, a power of vivid description and of characterisation through reported dialogue, which will not endear Mr. Naipaul to his many acquaintances when his book comes into their hands."
Further comments about North of South came from Lewis Nkosi, who in the Times Literary Supplement noted Naipaul's "elegance of style," but concurred with other critics that "it is not that the picture Naipaul paints of Africa is totally unrecognizable; the question is one of perspective and standards used." And Jim Hoagland, writing in the Washington Post Book World, deemed North of South "ultimately one-dimensional," but judged it a "rare quick good read for the Africa shelf."
Naipaul followed North of South with Journey to Nowhere: A New World Tragedy, in which he sought to explain and document the bizarre circumstances and events that precipitated the Jonestown Massacre, when more than nine hundred men, women, and children, all members of a cult known as the People's Temple, committed suicide at the command of the sect's leader, Jim Jones. The mass suicide occurred in 1978 in Guyana, where Jones had moved his cult after journalists and concerned family members of the cultists interfered with the group's operation in San Francisco, California. Before instructing his followers to drink the cyanide-laced soft drink he offered them, Jones explained that their suicide was "an act … protesting the conditions of an inhuman world." Related deaths included California congressman Leo Ryan and several others who were gunned down on a Guyana airstrip by People's Temple members. Ryan and his entourage were on a mission to investigate the cult and free several members being held against their will.
Naipaul's account of the massacre was applauded by many reviewers, among them D.J. Enright, who wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Journey to Nowhere is "a saddening, alarming, depressing book" that is "in part, a tribute to its author's assiduity, fortitude and powers of expression…. Only if the author had lived there could he have hoped to be more exhaustive and certain; and then he would not have lived to tell the tale at all." In the New York Times Book Review Peter L. Berger regarded Naipaul as "a masterful writer" and found Journey to Nowhere a "lively and readable" book. "Naipaul's is a harsh perspective," Berger opined. "It is also a very persuasive one. To be sure, a less idiosyncratic writer would have softened his interpretation, introduced more nuances, perhaps shown more compassion. One strength of the book is that Mr. Naipaul does none of these things, letting the reader make his own modifications if he is so inclined."
Peter Schrag also offered praise for Journey to Nowhere in his Nation review, calling Naipaul's book "a tough, intelligent, beautifully written account of how Californian and Third World illusions fused to set the stage for the disaster in Guyana." Schrag added that Naipaul "has a flawless ear for the gobbledygook of Third World pretenders, encounter-group gurus, esties [adherents of est, a quasi-religious group], obfuscating politicians and the various other manipulators of rhetoric who populated the world of Pastor Jones." And critic John Coleman, in the New Statesman, wrote of Journey to Nowhere: "It is one man's view and helps to make hideous sense of that flight to a Guyanan graveyard. Naipaul writes as ever with an ice-tipped pen, elegantly summoning laughter that rings like anger."
Naipaul's third novel, A Hot Country, is set in the fictional South African state of Cuyama, a depressed region where politics have become "banditry, cynicism and lies," and where the land has been ravaged, leaving "the foundations of vanished houses," and "archways leading nowhere." Its people, too, are bleak, frustrated, and hopeless as a result of the poverty and hunger that prevail in Cuyama. In a London Times review, critic Andrew Sinclair felt Naipaul's "regressive view … leaves the readers in the doldrums, with hardly enough energy to turn these pages of fine prose without the least spark of life." And "there is much voluptuous self-surrender to pessimism by the author, who closes off all avenues of hope," wrote Nicholas Rankin in Times Literary Supplement. "Yet it does not mask Shiva Naipaul's other considerable talents as a novelist. He deftly captures place, mood and character, and has not lost his eye and ear for embarrassment and discomfiture…. A Hot Country is a sad book about waste, but a work of art that delights with its craft as it dismays with its vision."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 32, 1985, Volume 39, 1986.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1985, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Choice, January, 1972; October, 1973; October, 1981.
Christian Science Monitor, June 20, 1973.
Nation, May 2, 1981.
National Review, September 28, 1979; October 2, 1981.
New Republic, June 9, 1979; June 16, 1979; May 11, 1987, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "The Unfinished Journey," p. 26.
New Statesman, April 20, 1973; July 28, 1978; October 31, 1980.
Newsweek, May 21, 1979; June 1, 1979; May 14, 1984.
New Yorker, August 6, 1973; July 2, 1979; May 25, 1981.
New York Times, April 21, 1979; August 16, 1985; March 13, 1987.
New York Times Book Review, February 7, 1971; May 6, 1979; June 29, 1980; July 5, 1981; July 4, 1982; August 12, 1984; March 24, 1985; March 22, 1987.
Observer, November 15, 1970; April 15, 1973; April 25, 1976; July 30, 1978; November 2, 1980.
Spectator, October 30, 1970; April 21, 1973; October 14, 1978; February 7, 1981.
Times (London, England), August 28, 1983.
Times Literary Supplement, December 11, 1970; April 13, 1973; September 29, 1978; October 31, 1980; August 30, 1983; September 12, 1986.
Washington Post Book World, July 1, 1979; April 5, 1981, April 25, 1984, March 24, 1985, April 19, 1987.
Detroit Free Press, August 17, 1985.
Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1985.
Newsweek, August 26, 1985.
New York Times, August 16, 1985.
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1985.
Time, August 26, 1985.
Times (London, England), August 16, 1985; August 21, 1985.
Washington Post, August 17, 1985.