Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Family Letters

by V.S. Naipaul

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40730-8
Publisher: Knopf

This spirited, humane collection of letters from Naipaul’s (Beyond Belief, 1998; etc.) second decade of life gathers the triangular exchanges between the young Oxford student, his father in Trinidad, and his sister, Kamla, in India—and records the initiations of family death and authorial triumph. After winning a government scholarship at age 17, Naipaul——Vidia——left his native Trinidad in 1950 for England. This volume begins on the eve of his departure, with letters to his sister, a vivid figure both passionate and appealingly erratic. The teenager consoles her loneliness as she attends school in India, and also fussily plans for his coming journey. Once in England, he begins the grind of school, composition, submission, and touring the country. Meanwhile, Kamla worries about her brother’s filial piety and the wayward life of an Oxford undergraduate. His father, however, takes the developments in stride—and for those interested in Naipaul’s apprenticeship as a writer, their implicit debate is engaging. Naipaul’s father, Seepersand, a newspaper writer who wrestled with fiction in his free time, is both partner and mentor in the imaginative enterprise. He relies on his son to see to the practical affairs of submitting his own work in England, and makes collegial observations about the life of the mind (as well as on the genesis of his own novel, The Adventures of Gurudeva). Vidia finally breaks through at the BBC, where many of his stories are broadcast, and with his halting attempts at a novel. In 1953, Seepersand dies after a history of heart disease, just three years too soon to see the final acceptance of Vidia’s first novel, The Mystic Masseur. In a wonderful departure from —today I had for breakfast— collections of letters, Naipaul not only offers intriguing insights into his passage toward artistry, but tells a bittersweet, genuinely rewarding tale.