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Between Father and Son : Family Letters Hardcover – January 25, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (January 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375407308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375407307
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,917,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Writing to his eldest son, Vidia, at Oxford in 1950, Seepersad Naipaul observed: "Your letters are charming in their spontaneity. If you could write me letters about things and people--especially people--at Oxford, I could compile them in a book." Nearly 50 years later, the father's desire has been fulfilled by his son with the publication of V.S. Naipaul's Letters Between a Father and Son. The collection covers the period between Naipaul's departure from his native Trinidad in 1950 to study at Oxford to the untimely death of his father in 1953 at the age of 47. Alongside the letters between father and son are those between Naipaul and his older sister, Kamla, a student at the Benares Hindu University in India, who is advised by her then-17-year-old brother to "watch your personal effects carefully; the Indians are a thieving lot."

At the heart of the book lie Naipaul's undergraduate life at Oxford and his father's deeply moving support for his son as he strives to maintain his own writing career while Naipaul's literary talent flowers. The minutiae of Naipaul's college life offer a fascinating account of the genesis of the querulous, fussy, and patrician Naipaul of later years. The letters are full of stories of his endless rounds of tea parties, writing for the Oxford journal Isis, flirting with women, and endless requests for cigarettes from home. But the most revealing and moving dimension of the collection is the love and friendship between father and son. Seepersad vents his own literary frustrations upon his son while at the same time assuring Naipaul of his unconditional support: "I feel so darned cocksure that I can produce a novel within six months--if only I had nothing else to do. This is impossible. But I want to give you this chance." Seepersad's sudden death is very affecting, as is Naipaul's telegraphed response home: "Everything I owe to him." This is a deeply revealing collection of one of the most enigmatic writers of the postwar period, and it offers an absorbing insight into Naipaul's early fiction, particularly The Mystic Masseur and Miguel Street. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk

From Publishers Weekly

The origin of this book seems to be in a letter from Seepersad Naipaul to young Vido (or Vidia): "If you could write me letters about things and people--especially people--at Oxford, I could compile them in a book: Letters Between a Father and Son...." Although the correspondence (much of it with sister Kamla--in college in India--as third party) is presented as a portrait of the artist as a young man, it is not always a likable one, resonating with pathos more than prophecy of fame or literary accomplishment. The future novelist (A House for Mr. Biswas, etc.), a Trinidadian of Indian background on scholarship in England in 1950, has left behind a family of diminishing prospects and on the edge of penury. His father, a talented writer stuck in marginal local journalism, soon loses his job after a heart attack. His mother, to everyone's guarded embarrassment, becomes pregnant again. Vido is anguished about his family's condition (there are more young children at home), but knows that returning is suicidal to his ambitions. While he begins making it by selling short fiction to the BBC for overseas broadcast, the Naipauls deteriorate further with the death of Seepersad at 47, in 1953. In an epilogue, V.S. is tasting early success, far removed from the backwater of Trinidad. More memorable than the ambitious son, who is often consumed by anxiety, is the pragmatic father, who assures Vido that he will be "a great writer" and advises him to "beware of undue dissipation," but not to be "a puritan." A terse cable from Vido to his family on his father's death begins, "HE WAS THE BEST MAN I EVER KNEW.... " The family letters are Seepersad's memorial. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By supastar on June 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The book offers insight into the life and thoughts of Naipaul and shows us a more personable side of the author, who seems to be on such a solo mission. Furthermore, we learn of his relationship to his father and the background of Naipaul's greatest character, Mohun Biswas. Naipaul's father was a true writer, a literature buff, unlike Biswas, who liked Marcus Aurelius and kept info in a Shakespeare that he may or may not have ever read. In letters, we don't see much of the temper or the actions of the character Biswas, but we see the meditations of the man who was his source. We also see VS Naipaul's transformation from West Indian student leaving the island for the first time, to a published author four years later. We read that "useless letter" that Naipaul describes in A House for Mr. Biswas, sent home following Biswas' death, and we learn all about the sympathy and respect that Naipaul had when writing this character. From this time on, he knew he would be a writer. He has longings and inklings towards India and Africa, he is already an anglophile with a strong rejection of coloured people, and an inclination to disassociate himself with these people, whom he finds ignorant and barbaric, a common criticism of his literature. There seems to show, in the uncommented upon letters, some of Naipaul's faults and prejudices and feelings of shortcomings, as a West Indian in England, as an outsider, always. But he never rejected his family, and was in fact a very sincere and loving brother and son. This is somewhat surprising considering the coldness that he sometimes can exude. His discussions of loneliness, of brotherhood and the need to take care of each other seem like preludes to stories from "In a Free State.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary R. Egstrom on February 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
This collection doesn't consist solely of letters between father and son. In fact, the final dozen or so missives date from after dad's death, and there are others which are neither written by nor addressed to V.S. But V.S. -- and his relationship with his father -- is definitely the focal point of the collection.
Three far flung correspondents dominate the book. There is Seepersad, V.S.'s father, back in Trinidad, raising the large family and struggling to be a writer. There is Vidia, gone to England to study at Oxford. And there is Vido's sister Kamla, studying at Benares Hindu University in India for most of the period covered in the book.
The letters are often unremarkable. There is lots of wondering why more letters aren't being written and lots of excuses (especially by V.S.) why more can't be sent. There is lots of discussion about money, and promises to send small but vital amounts back and forth. There are requests for things to be sent -- V.S. wants cigarettes (remaining stunningly ignorant for quite a while of the obvious fact that the duty that has to be paid on imported cigarettes will pretty much equal the high tax he would pay if he bought the cigarettes in England), while dad asks for books, newspapers, and other odds and ends. Care packages of sugar and other Trinidadian necessities also are sent to England.
There is also much to do about the writerly ambitions of the two Naipaul men. Both write a lot, and manage to publish here and there -- and even get their stories broadcast on the BBC. V.S. also works for some Oxford publications (Isis among them), while dad works for a Trinidadian newspaper, and each shares some of their experiences in these positions.
V.S.
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Format: Paperback
This is a good book if you want to see what makes someone who is hell-bent to become a good writer, to actually succeed and achieve his dream. I think Naipaul's father was a brilliant man, who nurtured, supported and provided much needed confidence to a man who would eventually become a nobel prize winning author.

The time span of the book covers early young life of Naipaul, in the early 20s and you see many immature statements made in the book. The problem with Naipaul is that he was produced in a society where bars were set by the white men. You see in the book how Naipaul is always trying to do things in a way that will help him compete in the world he inherited. I do not blame him for that.

For example when Naipaul quotes and agrees with Huxley - "He said that it was half-diets that produced ascetics and people who spend all their time in meditation". That is such a simplistic materialistic western view point and completely invalidated by such a obvious example as Gautham Buddha, who quit his kingdom to explore the nature of human existence.

The genius of Naipaul is in his ability to come out of his cultural conditioning and try to see the world as objectively as possible. His observations on the British people are very interesting. This book gives you a glimpse on how a father, son duo overcame the insurmountable barriers to success to achieve their dreams.

On the other hand the weakness of Naipaul is in his inability to come out of what I would call for a lack of better words - white ass kissing attitude. All that glitters is not gold may be a cliche, but it is an apt commentary on the western world.
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