London | Nobel prize-winning British author V.S. Naipaul has died at the age of 85, his family announced on Saturday.
“He died surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavour,” his wife Lady Nadira Naipaul said in a statement.
She described the outspoken author as a “giant in all that he achieved”.
Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in Trinidad, the son of an Indian civil servant, and studied English literature at Oxford University on a scholarship.
He settled in England but spent much of his time travelling and despite becoming a pillar of Britain’s cultural establishment, was also a symbol of modern rootlessness.
Naipaul’s early works focused on the West Indies, but came to encompass countries around the world, often focusing on the traumas of post-colonial change.
When he was awarded the 2001 Nobel prize for literature, the Swedish Academy described him as a “literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice”.
It said he was “the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings”.
“His authority as a narrator is grounded in his memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished,” it said.
Naipaul, who was knighted in 1990, mixed fiction, non-fiction and autobiography without distinction.
One of his seminal novels was the “A House for Mr Biswas” (1961), which looked at the almost impossible task for Indian immigrants in the Caribbean of trying to integrate into society while keeping hold of their roots.
Overall he wrote more than 30 books, and was one of the first winners of the Booker Prize, now Britain’s leading literary award, in 1971 for “In A Free State”.
During his early career Naipaul was dogged by money worries and loneliness. He met his first wife, Pat, at Oxford, who became his constant literary support.
She died in 1996, and he later revealed that he felt he hastened her death by publicly admitting while she fought cancer that he had frequented prostitutes.
Naipaul married Pakistani journalist Nadira Alvi the same year Pat died.
He was famously outspoken and had a reputation for cutting people out of his life, but once retorted: “My life is short. I can’t listen to banalities.”
Naipaul’s ire ranged from corruption in Indian politics to the West’s cynical treatment of its former colonies to the cult of personality in “The Return of Eva Peron”.
He pulled out of a Turkish literary event in 2010 following protests over his views that Islam both enslaved and attempted to wipe out other cultures.
He likened former British prime minister Tony Blair to a pirate at the head of a socialist revolution, and was also disparaging about “sentimental” female novelists.
Naipaul also fell out with US travel writer Paul Theroux, who later wrote a bitter, no-holds-barred memoir of their long association. They later resolved their differences.
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