It is always a difficult task to write the life of a living writer, and that too the biography of an opiniated and at time infuriatingly controversial, but highly talented writer, like V S Naipaul. Partick French has succeeded in doing just that:A narrative of the lfe of V S Naipaul from the sugar cane fields of Trinidad to the height of Nobel fame and glory. The World is What it is covers the life of V S Naipaul from the vantage point of uncovering the man behind the books, it is reverntial without being dishonest, objective without being cynical, critical without being scandalous. I enjoyed reading the book as I have been an ardent admirer of V S Naipaul, and in these days of post-colonial disregard for truth, we have in Naipaul a writer whose commitment to truth forms the very foundation of his craft.
V S Naipaul work is framed by what can be called a double dispalcenment: His maternal grandfather migrated in the late nineteenth century from Gorakhpur, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, a state of India, to the West Indies to work as an "indentured worker" on the sugar plantations. The abolition of slavery in the British Empire following the highly "Christian" campaign of William Wilberforce in 1834 resulted in a short fallof labor in the west Indies, and the Empire trurned to the badlands of northern India to harvest hands to work on the plantations. The savagery with which the Mutiny had been put down had completely torn asunder the agrarian society of northern India making it neccessay for the likes of Naipaul's grandfather to seek his fortunes elaewhere. The second displacement happened when Naipaul won his scholarship to study at Oxford. Reluctantly he became the chronicler of individuals and people caught in the grip of forces over which theyu had little control.
Patrick French is an excellent biographer and had access to the private papers of Naipaul which are housed in the oil-rich University of Texas at Austen.It must be said to the credit of Naipaul that he did not seek to influence the picture drawn by French, and this stems from Naipaul's own dedication to the craft of words in the service of truth.
There are a few dark spots in the life of V S Naipaul. His treatment of his wife Pat was certainly shabby. The woman did not once complain about the treatment meted out to her by her husband. The violence with which Naipaul treated his lover, Margret Gooding who bore the pain of 3 abortions in order to save V S Naipaul the responsibility of fatherhood, makes one wonder whether genius always pays homage to a tortured soul.