LONDON • V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidad-born Nobel laureate whose celebrated writing and brittle, provocative personality drew admiration and revulsion in equal measures, died Saturday at his London home, his family said. He was 85.
His wife, Nadira Naipaul, said he was “a giant in all that he achieved and he died surrounded by those he loved having lived a life which was full of wonderful creativity and endeavor.”
Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.”
In an extraordinary career spanning half a century, the writer traveled as a self-described “barefoot colonial” from rural Trinidad to upper class England, picked up the most coveted literary awards and a knighthood, and was hailed as one of the greatest English writers of the 20th century.
Naipaul’s books explored colonialism and decolonization, exile and the struggles of the everyman in the developing world — themes that mirror his personal background and trajectory.
Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul — Vidia to those who knew him — was born on Aug. 17, 1932 in Trinidad, a descendant of impoverished Indians shipped to the West Indies as bonded laborers.
In 1950, Naipaul was awarded one of a few available government scholarships to study in England, and he left his family to begin his studies in English literature at University College, Oxford.
Naipaul eventually landed a radio job working for BBC World Service, where he discussed West Indian literature and found his footing as a writer. His breakthrough came in 1957 with his first published novel “The Mystic Masseur,” a humorous book about the lives of powerless people in a Trinidad ghetto.
Naipaul caught the eye of book reviewers, and in 1959 he won the Somerset Maugham Award with the story collection “Miguel Street.”
In 1961, Naipaul published “A House for Mr. Biswas,” which was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece. That novel, about how one man’s life was restricted by the limits of colonial society, was a tribute to Naipaul’s father.
Years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Naipaul devoted attention to Islamic radicalism. Naipaul’s nonfiction often provoked anger, and many were offended by his views about Islam and India. Rushdie thought he was promoting Hindu nationalism.
He also continued to publish award-winning novels. “The Mimic Men” won the W.H. Smith Award in 1967, and in 1971 “In a Free State,” a meditation on colonialism in Africa, was awarded the Booker Prize. Naipaul received a knighthood in 1990, and in 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.