V. S. Naipaul

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One isn't born one's self. One is born with a mass of expectations, a mass of other people's ideas — and you have to work through it all.

Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (born 17 August 1932) is a British writer who was born and raised in Trinidad. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.


  • One always writes comedy at the moment of deepest hysteria.
    • Quoted in "V.S. Naipaul in Search of Himself: A Conversation" with Mel Gussow, The New York Times, (24 April 1994)
  • To this day, if you ask me how I became a writer, I cannot give you an answer. To this day, if you ask me how a book is written, I cannot answer. For long periods, if I didn't know that somehow in the past I had written a book, I would have given up.
    • Quoted in "V.S. Naipaul in Search of Himself: A Conversation" with Mel Gussow, The New York Times, (24 April 1994)
  • I have told people who ask for lectures that I have no lecture to give. And that is true. It might seem strange that a man who has dealt in words and emotions and ideas for nearly fifty years shouldn't have a few to spare, so to speak. But everything of value about me is in my books. Whatever extra there is in me at any given moment isn't fully formed. I am hardly aware of it; it awaits the next book. It will — with luck — come to me during the actual writing, and it will take me by surprise. That element of surprise is what I look for when I am writing.
  • "I think when you see so many Hindu temples of the tenth century or earlier time disfigured, defaced, you know that they were not just defaced for fun: that something terrible happened. I feel that the civilization of that closed world was mortally wounded by those invasions. And I would like people, as it were, to be more reverential towards the past, to try to understand it; to preserve it; instead of living in its ruins. The Old World is destroyed. That has to be understood. The ancient Hindu India was destroyed."
  • "In art and history books, people write of the Muslims 'arriving' in India as though they came on a tourist bus and went away again. The Muslim view of their conquest is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the casting away of locals as slaves."
  • " While the Ottomans moved into South-East Europe, the Moghul invasion of India destroyed much of Hindu and Buddhist civilization there. The recent destruction by Moslems in Afghanistan of colossal Buddhist statues is a reminder of what happened to temples and shrines, on an enormous scale, when Islam took over.
    • Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization
  • “India has been a wounded civilization because of Islamic violence: Pakistanis know this; indeed they revel in it. It is only Indian Nehruvians like Romila Thapar who pretend that Islamic rule was benevolent. We should face facts: Islamic rule in India was at least as catastrophic as the later Christian rule. The Christians created massive poverty in what was a most prosperous country; the Muslims created a terrorized civilization out of what was the most creative culture that ever existed.”
    • V S Naipaul in Economic Times, 13 January 2003
  • "It is like reading of a land periodically devastated by hordes of lemmings or locusts; it is like turning from the history of a coral reef, in which every act and every death is a foundation, to the depressing chronicle of a succession of castles built on the waste sand of the sea-shore. This is Woodruff on the difference between European history and Indian history. He has chosen his images well. But the sandcastle is not quite exact. The sandcastle is flattened by the tide and leaves not trace, and India is above all the land of ruins."
    • An Area of Darkness by V S Naipaul
  • "How do you ignore history? But the nationalist movement, independence movement ignored it. You read the Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru, it talks about the mythical past and then it jumps the difficult period of the invasions and conquests. So you have Chinese pilgrims coming to Bihar, Nalanda and places like that. Then somehow they don't tell you what happens, why these places are in ruin. They never tell you why Elephanta Island is in ruins or why Bhubaneswar was desecrated."
    • V S Naipaul in Economic Times, 13 January 2003
  • "In India, unlike Iran, there never was a complete Islamic conquest. Although the Muslims ruled much of North India from 1200A.D. to 1700A.D. in the 18th century, the Marathas and the Sikhs destroyed Muslim power, and created their own empires, before the advent of the British....The British introduced the New Learning of Europe, to which the Hindus were more receptive than the Muslims. This caused the beginning of the intellectual distance between the two communities. This distance has grown with independence....Muslim insecurity led to the call for the creation of Pakistan. It went at the same time with an idea of old glory, of the invaders sweeping down from the northwest and looting the temples of Hindustan and imposing faith on the infidel. The fantasy still lives: and for the Muslim converts of the subcontinent it is the start of their neurosis, because in this fantasy the convert forgets who or what he is and becomes the violator."
    • Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
  • Indian intellectuals have a responsibility to the state and should start a debate on the Muslim psyche, To speak of Hindu fundamentalism, is a contradiction in terms, it does not exist. Hinduism is not this kind of religion. You know, there are no laws in Hinduism.
    • Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization

The Enigma of Arrival (1987)[edit]

Vintage, 1988, ISBN 0-394-75760-2
  • I also bought a copy of The New York Times, the previous day's issue of which I had seen the previous day in Puerto Rico. I was interested in newspapers and knew this paper to be one of the foremost in the world. But to read a newspaper for the first time is like coming into a film that has been on for an hour. Newspapers are like serials. To understand them you have to take knowledge to them; the knowledge that serves best is the knowledge provided by the newspaper itself. It made me feel a stranger, that paper.
    • "The Journey" (p. 115)
  • Men need history; it helps them to have an idea of who they are. But history, like sanctity, can reside in the heart; it is enough that there is something there.
    • "The Ceremony of Farewell"

A Turn in the South (1989)[edit]

Vintage, 1990, ISBN 0-679-72488-5
  • The family feuds or the village feuds often had to do with an idea of honor. Perhaps it was a peasant idea; perhaps this idea of honor is especially important to a society without recourse to law or without confidence in law.
    • Ch. 5 (p. 162)
  • Religion now had to have its compartment, almost its social place.
    The frontier had ceased to exist. And the religions it had bred were beginning slowly to die. In the old days, when men, often of little education, had needed only to declare themselves ministers, people would have seen themselves reflected in the expounders of the Word. This quality of homespun would have made the religions appear creations of a community, personal and close and inviolable. Now a certain distance was needed.
    • Ch. 6 (p. 244)

Half a Life (2001)[edit]

  • Life doesn't have a neat beginning and a tidy end, life is always going on. You should begin in the middle and end in the middle, and it should be all there.
  • I could scarcely bear to look at her eyes. They promised such intimacies.
  • I thought how terrible it would have been if, as could so easily have happened, I had died without knowing this depth of satisfaction, this other person that I had just discovered within myself. It was worth any price, any consequence.
  • And whenever I saw Luis, Graça's husband, I dealt with him with a friendship that was quite genuine, since it was offered out of gratitude for Graça's love.
  • Before comfort had been squeezed out of the hard land, like blood out of stone.

Quotes about V. S. Naipaul[edit]

  • Let us add one more complication success brings: the illusion of predestination. In this regard I cannot help recalling a long conversation with V. S. Naipaul in which he insisted that he could not have failed as an author, and that recognition, even immediate recognition, of his genius was inevitable, simply because he was so good. I could not persuade him to accept that he only believed this because he had in fact been successful and that it must have been possible, given the world’s perversity, for recognition to have eluded him. The conviction of predestination came after the event.
    • Tim Parks, “Stifled by Success,” The New York Review of Books, March 12, 2015
  • Naipaul is essentially a writer of discovery. He tries on occasion to look into the past through the evidence of the present. That’s what he did in writing about the ruins of Vijayanagar in India: A Wounded Civilisation. He is not a professional historian, but his insights and perspectives on Indian history are unique and as startling in their accuracy as the observations of his travel.

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