Portrait of the Artist as a ?

There is ample evidence that being a great artist is no innoculation against being a rotten human being.  Wagner and Picasso come to mind.  The recent death of Nobel Prize winning author V. S. Naipaul has provoked a flood of both praise and condemnation: praise for his work and a more mixed reaction to his life and character.  A child of the Indian diaspora, he was born in Trinidad in 1932 (on my birthday, though not my birth year).

I've only (so far) read one of his books, A Bend in the River.  Clearly a great book, it nevertheless left me with a distrust of the author's character, a distrust inherited, I expect, from my feelings about the narrator.  It fits neatly in my mind between two other great Africa books: Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Part of the anger against Naipaul is personal, based on his misanthropy, misogyny, and treatment of the women in his life, including physical and psychological abuse.  The rest of it seems focused of his critique of postcolonial countries, especially what he apparently thought was their propensity to blame all their troubles on colonialism and disinclination to take responsibility for their own fates.

A couple of retrospectives I found enlightening: Aatish Taseer's V.S. Naipaul, My Wonderful, Cruel Friend in the New York Times and Why Has Naipaul Been Honoured? by Girish Karnad in Outlook (India).  The former is mostly pro and the latter mostly anti.  The NYT comments section has a wide variety of strong opinions of the author.


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