Between Father and Son: Family Letters

V. S. Naipaul, Author, Gillon Aitken, Editor Alfred A. Knopf $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-40730-7
The origin of this book seems to be in a letter from Seepersad Naipaul to young Vido (or Vidia): ""If you could write me letters about things and people--especially people--at Oxford, I could compile them in a book: Letters Between a Father and Son...."" Although the correspondence (much of it with sister Kamla--in college in India--as third party) is presented as a portrait of the artist as a young man, it is not always a likable one, resonating with pathos more than prophecy of fame or literary accomplishment. The future novelist (A House for Mr. Biswas, etc.), a Trinidadian of Indian background on scholarship in England in 1950, has left behind a family of diminishing prospects and on the edge of penury. His father, a talented writer stuck in marginal local journalism, soon loses his job after a heart attack. His mother, to everyone's guarded embarrassment, becomes pregnant again. Vido is anguished about his family's condition (there are more young children at home), but knows that returning is suicidal to his ambitions. While he begins making it by selling short fiction to the BBC for overseas broadcast, the Naipauls deteriorate further with the death of Seepersad at 47, in 1953. In an epilogue, V.S. is tasting early success, far removed from the backwater of Trinidad. More memorable than the ambitious son, who is often consumed by anxiety, is the pragmatic father, who assures Vido that he will be ""a great writer"" and advises him to ""beware of undue dissipation,"" but not to be ""a puritan."" A terse cable from Vido to his family on his father's death begins, ""HE WAS THE BEST MAN I EVER KNEW.... "" The family letters are Seepersad's memorial. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
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