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The Writer and the World: Essays Paperback – August 13, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

V.S. Naipaul is a creature of paradox. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his essay collection, The Writer and the World. These essays, selected and introduced by Pankaj Mishra, range from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s. In them, our man travels the world, from his native Trinidad to his ancestral India to America and beyond, always looking with clear eyes at what's right there in front of him. In doing so, he's given us a distinctly Naipaulean journalism: he writes about countries as though they were people. "The politics of a country," he says, "can only be an extension of its idea of human relationships." His writing is, as a result, simultaneously petty and grand. Here, he writes of Belize City:
In the late afternoons Negroes in jackets and ties--famous throughout Central America for their immunity to disease--walk behind the hearses to the cemetery just outside the town, waving white handkerchiefs... It is like a ceremony of bewildered farewell at the limit of the world. But they are only keeping off the mosquitoes and sand flies.
Here is a writer who turns the specific to the universal, seemingly without effort. If Naipaul has a reputation as a grouch, it's only because he never lets go of the specific in favor of the universal. The two always coexist. The pieces contained here--mostly heretofore out of print--are short in length, catholic in interest, and in all a fine introduction to our most cosmopolitan postcolonial writer. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

The election campaign is a recurring theme in this comprehensive collection of essays spanning four decades and scattered about the globe: India, Zaire, Grenada, Anguilla, the Americas. Civilization's sharpest tool for self-determination serves as familiar backdrop against which Naipaul, with a robust sense of wonder, examines more ancient yet persistent methods of human interaction ritual, magic, myth, prophecy, clans and castes. The Nobel laureate also tackles U.S. politics, from Norman Mailer's 1969 campaign for mayor of New York City to the surreal and religion-amped 1984 Republican National Convention where the wheels of the image-making machine are in constant motion. Through tenacious yet unobtrusive reportage, Naipaul deconstructs the mythologized among them Eva Peron, Mobutu Sese Seko, John Steinbeck, Eldridge Cleaver, the American Dream and how progress falters in the face of ritualism and single-mindedness. Revolutionary movements often fall prey to these, and Naipaul analyzes those derailments, particularly in postcolonial society. While some of his travelogues date back to the early 1960s, they nonetheless seem fresh, speaking to Naipaul's astute and prescient powers of observation. He uncovers the universal in his subjects: the confrontation between East and West, the tension between old and new, between creators and consumers, the nature of power. A champion of the individual and one of civilization's ardent faithful, Naipaul offers his own exilic heritage and literary experience as an example of modernity's prowess. He is indeed a master stylist, his prose precise and fresh. Yet always beating below the words is a true and tender heart. Densely researched with an omniscient touch, some of Naipaul's meditations are more accessible than others, which may, at times, hinder demystification of the man many consider to be the greatest living writer in the English language.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (August 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375407391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375407390
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,370,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Turner on July 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
Some countries are going places, some are not. Ever been someplace on the planet where not much of anything really works? Like lights, water, phones, transportation, agriculture, healthcare ... forget elevators.

V.S. Naipaul nails the key attributes at an early age: tribalism, magic, double lives and my favorite, lack of maintenance. He looks for the best in every location but discovers what is behind the curtain. Not a politically correct book but a surprisingly accurate set of predictions and explanations. Enjoy the trip.
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Format: Paperback
When one reads Naipaul's nonfictional essays, and compares them with his fictional works, one is most certainly not as impressed. In this prolific collection- 550+ pages, Naipaul documents his diverse essays, on diverse topics, from India to Anguilla, from New York, to Algeria. Let me begin with the first essay, which, not surprisingly, regards a visit to the city of Calcutta. There is a slight background material- about Trinidad, and then starts the prophet-of-doomsday attitude. One is almost irked when continually perusing through words like "decaying", "morbid", "ruin". If India would actually be a dying culture, it would have by now been history. But it still persists, flourishes, and exports it culture. Naipaul is relentlessly critical of Indians, deeming them "indifferent", "primitive", etc. He lashes out at Hinduism with a sudden passionate loathing- "The barbaric rituals of Hinduism are barbaric, the idea of the holy cow is absurd." All this gives an impression of a ceaslessly pessimistic man, who is born to extract only the most troubling aspects of Indians, ignoring the democracy, ignoring the culture, ignoring the slow progress, ignoring the values- in short, making a thorn of every petal. But, one must admit, Naipaul's opinions about India are true, and being an Indian myself, it is nothing extraordinary. But of cruelty, and malice, one does not approve- Naipaul's satire on the Indian accent: "Esomerset, Eshelly, Eshakespeare", is almost as if Naipaul is on some evil mission to forever degrade common people. If writing about such extraneous incidents is your idea of humor, Mr. Naipaul, certainly we do not approve it. This attitude of rooting out the utmost filth out of a poor country, reveals how depressed Naipaul is, and how audacious, let go haughty.Read more ›
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What can one say about V.S. Naipaul the essayist? This collection contains most of the shorter pieces that have made his reputation. There are the beginning pieces on India, and there are the well-known essays on Michael X, on Mobutu, on the collapse of Argentina in the 1970s. There are also the later pieces on the failed Grenadian revolution and on Cheddi Jagan, the Marxist Guyanan politician who was kept out of power by American and British electoral skullduggery. There are also several essays on America, including ones on Steinbeck, a surprisingly uncontemptuous piece on Norman Mailer's 1969 mayoralty campaign and a particularly perceptive piece on the 1984 Republican convention. And finally there is the concluding essay "Our Universal Civilization."
Surely there is much to support the opinion of Naipaul's enthusiastic followers who at the same time have praised him for refuting liberal sentimentalities. There is the fine readable prose and the cutting observation. One notes this in the essay about the election campaign in India where the conservative candidate spouts pseudo-Gandhian rhetoric about the purity of agriculture in a land of desperate poverty. The candidate even says that piped water would only make the women who spend several hours going back and forth to wells lazy. There is the theme of a lethal sentimentality: On the Jan Singh party "Like parties of the extreme right elsewhere, the Jan Singh dealt in anger, simplified scholarship and, above all, sentimentality." On Steinbeck: "His sentimentality, when prompted by anger and conscience, was part of his strength as a writer. Without anger or the cause of anger he writes fairy-tales.
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