The much anticipated and eagerly awaited biography of the Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul by Mr. Patrick French is now in print. It is fascinating, gripping, deeply shocking, humorous, and hugely entertaining as well.
Readers who shook their heads in disbelief when they read Mr. Paul Theroux's "Sir Vidia's Shadow" can now read this book and shake their head some more in disbelief at some of the cruel and unpleasant incidents described here in raw and unvarnished detail. Given an opportunity to comment and suggest changes to the manuscript, Mr. Naipaul, to his credit, did not suggest any changes and allowed the book to be published, wrinkles, blisters, cuts, gashes, bruises and scabs intact, which is precisely the reason that this book is so gripping and shocking to read.
The details of Mr. Naipaul's life, often, are not very pleasant to read. In fact, I cringed when I read some of the passages here. Even though I had read about several of the unflattering incidents in various articles, books, and also on the Internet, I was quite shocked, nevertheless, when I read those passages here. This biography confirms that, yes, Mr. Naipaul is a great and fascinating writer, but he is also a flawed man.
Mr. Naipaul comes across as a funny, witty man, a racist, misogynist, a married man with a young mistress whom he beat up many times, a man who patronized prostitutes, and also a writer who experienced racism from other writers such as Evelyn Waugh. If you have read any of his novels and non-fiction, while reading this biography you will vividly recall some of the brilliant passages from those books, especially "A Bend in the River", "The Enigma of Arrival", and "A House for Mr. Biswas". I did.
To write a biography of this great but much maligned and misunderstood writer and novelist, and a living legend, it takes a competent writer with good command over the English language, to complement and reflect Naipaul's elegant and mellifluous prose. After all, Naipaul is universally acknowledged as the world's preeminent stylist of English prose. Mr. Patrick French doesn't disappoint the readers. Written in crisp, clear, and lucid prose, the book fascinates and captivates the reader from the very beginning:
"He likes the look of the sixteen-year-old girl behind the counter, Droapatie Capildeo. Not realizing she is a daughter of the house, he passes her a note. It is discovered, the formidable Soogee intervenes, and on 28 March 1929 Seepersad and Droapatie are married at the warden's office in Chaguanas. They have a daughter, Kamla, the following year, and on 17 August 1932 their son Vidyadhar is born. He is named for a Chandela king, the dynasty which built the magnificent Hindu temples at Khajuraho in northern India. His name means "giver of wisdom."
Actually, there is a minor error here. The name Vidyadhar doesn't mean "giver of wisdom"; it means "one who possesses knowledge", the root word Vid, from Sanskrit, means "to know" and dhar means "to hold" or to possess. It's indeed a very apt name for a great writer like V. S. Naipaul.
"The World Is What It Is" is like a wonderful and potent medicine; it is brightly colored and slightly bitter, and it might even get stuck in your throat, but once swallowed it will open your eyes and compel you to see Mr. Naipaul in new light, and also make you think and ponder and shake your head long after you have finished the book. This book is a marvel.