A constant concern of Naipaul's novels and travel writing is a search for identity and problems of rootlessness and dislocation. Many of his fictional figures remain unhoused, displaced, uprooted with no distinct place called 'home' to be proud of and are, therefore, located on the margins of fixed and shifting identities. Naipaul's intense, broad and predominantly melancholy experience of human nature in the modern world may be seen in the travel books and works of political journalism which have provided a background for his fiction.
In formal terms, Naipaul experiments along the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction, in particular travel writing, and often fuses genres to give birth to new ones.
This anthology presents a perceptive assessment of some of his important works of fiction and travel writing and puts into perspective his contribution to literature as a whole.
The book will be useful to the students, teachers and researchers of English literature.
Rajeshwar Mittapalli is Associate Professor of English at Kakatiya University, Warangal (Andhra Pradesh), India. His published works of criticism include The Novels of Wole Soyinka and Indian Women Novelists and Psychoanalysis. He has edited several anthologies of literary essays. Some of them are: Post-modernism and English Literature; Indian Fiction in English; Studies in Indian Writing in English (Volume 1 & 2); Post-Independence Indian English Fiction; Commonwealth Fiction: Twenty-first Century Readings; Modern American Literature and IT Revolution, and Globalization and the Teaching of English.
He has published a large number of articles on Indian, African and American fiction and ELT in reputed journals like New Quest; ARTS Research; Indian Literature; The Journal of Indian Writing in English; Commonwealth Quarterly; The Commonwealth Review and Revaluations.
Michael Hensen teaches English Literature and Culture at the University of Passau, Germany. He has widely published on Arnold Wesker, Salman Rushdie and mythical violence in English drama. He edited, with Annette Pankratz, The Aesthetics and Pragmatics of Violence (2001). His research interests include contemporary Indo-English novels, identities in post-colonial literatures, narratology and 20th-century British drama and film.
The Nobel award to Naipaul has given us a fresh occasion to reassess his contribution to fiction and travel literature. Among the reasons for awarding him the Prize the Nobel Committee noted his insistence on writing about "peripheral people" with "suppressed histories," his dealing extensively with shifting identities, roots, homes and the changing realities of migrants. The Swedish Academy praised his distinct style in which "the customary distinctions between fiction and non-fiction are of subordinate importance." These thematic and generic aspects of Naipaul's works reveal a cosmos of borderlines, and need to be gone into.
The subject-matter of Naipaul's novels and travel writings is the constant negotiation of where the individual is situated: country or city, inside the community or outside, within tradition or outside, and in the colonised world or post-colonial societies. What emerges out of these writings is Naipaul's stance on displaced individuals, uprooted and without a distinct place called 'home' but longing for it all the same. In 1981, Bharati Mukherjee claimed, "his writing is about unhousing and remaining unhoused" and this holds good for both his early and later works. Even if Mr. Biswas calls the house his own at the end of A House for Mr. Biswas, he remains vulnerable vis-a-vis his economic situation, and his "unhoused" condition is brought home by the fact that he will always be at the mercy of social and political forces and his own personal compulsions. This is true of many of Naipaul's later fictional figures who remain unhoused in themselves and are, therefore, located on the borderlines of fixed and shifting identities, living 'half-lives' prescribed by the colonial and post-colonial experience.
In formal terms, Naipaul experiments along the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction, in particular travel writing and autobiography. His novels, as many critics have pointed out, are characterised by his own experiences, and deeply influenced by his father's writings and the ethos of the community he belongs to. In his travel writings, he frequently tries to keep himself out of the picture, but still constitutes the soul of the narrative and its organisation.
The blurring of the boundaries is a significant factor in the evaluation of Naipaul by critics and discerning readers. While some claim that he is among the "finest living novelists writing in English," one who has a "uniquely authoritative position as an interpreter of colonial societies," others dismiss his works as overshadowed by his political ideology. These latter critics speak of his "ironic eclecticism and brahmanical aloofness." Naipaul's status as a writer was and is frequently seen as polemical and controversial, more so in the aftermath of the Nobel award. Despite a certain penchant on the part of Naipaul for controversy, or perhaps because of it, his works continue to enjoy popularity, and for good reasons. He has created many memorable characters (Man-Man, Mr. Biswas and Ganesh, to name but a few). His prose is highly readable, and his style is distinct to the point of being inimitable.
The articles included in this anthology take up these different thematic strands and elaborate on them. John Thieme looks at the recent history of the Nobel Prize and considers the reasons for Naipaul's winning it. He puts Naipaul's works into perspective by viewing them in relation to those of other Anglophone Caribbean writers such as Walcott and Harris.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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