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Book cover of Between Father and Son: Family Letters

Between Father and Son: Family Letters

by V. S. Naipaul, Gillon Aitken

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pages: 320
Paperback
ISBN: 9780375707261






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Overview of Between Father and Son: Family Letters

  At seventeen, V.S. Naipaul wanted to "follow no other profession" but writing. Awarded a scholarship by the Trinidadian government, he set out to attend Oxford, where he was encountered a vastly different world from the one he yearned to leave behind. Separated from his family by continents, and grappling with depression, financial strain, loneliness, and dislocation, "Vido" bridged the distance with a faithful correspondence that began shortly before the young man's two-week journey to England and ended soon after his father's death four years later.
   Here, for the first time, we have the opportunity to read this profoundly moving correspondence, which illuminates with unalloyed candor the relationship between a sacrificing father and his determined son as the encourage each other to persevere with their writing.  For though his father's literary aspirations would go unrealized, Naipaul's triumphant career would ultimately vindicate his beloved mentor's legacy.

Synopsis of Between Father and Son: Family Letters

  At seventeen, V.S. Naipaul wanted to "follow no other profession" but writing. Awarded a scholarship by the Trinidadian government, he set out to attend Oxford, where he was encountered a vastly different world from the one he yearned to leave behind. Separated from his family by continents, and grappling with depression, financial strain, loneliness, and dislocation, "Vido" bridged the distance with a faithful correspondence that began shortly before the young man's two-week journey to England and ended soon after his father's death four years later.
   Here, for the first time, we have the opportunity to read this profoundly moving correspondence, which illuminates with unalloyed candor the relationship between a sacrificing father and his determined son as the encourage each other to persevere with their writing.  For though his father's literary aspirations would go unrealized, Naipaul's triumphant career would ultimately vindicate his beloved mentor's legacy.

Publishers Weekly

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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

About the Author, V. S. Naipaul

In awarding V. S. Naipaul the Nobel prize for literature in 2001, the Swedish Academy called him a "literary circumnavigator" and a "modern philosophe." Both tags seem spot-on, given Naipaul's gift for describing -- in both his fictional and nonfictional studies of India, Africa, and beyond -- the humor and pathos of cultural collisions.

Reviews of Between Father and Son: Family Letters

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Editorials

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Library Journal

In 1949, at age 17, Naipaul left Trinidad for Oxford University. Here, Aitken has collected Naipaul's correspondences with his family from those years. The letters provide a lively account of Naipaul's evolution as a writer--"I am afraid I have become a writer," he declares at one point--but they also reveal him to be an eccentric, arrogant, and self-absorbed malcontent. He chastises his older sister and his parents for their faults, demands money from them, and boasts of his successes as a writer without mentioning or acknowledging family tragedies. In a postscript, Aitken also reprints a few later letters in which Naipaul celebrates the publication of his first novel and starts hinting at larger issues. "I don't see myself fitting into the Trinidad way of life," he writes. "I think I shall die if I had to spend the rest of my life in Trinidad." Still, only libraries needing a complete collection of Naipaul's writings will want to purchase this; otherwise, not recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/99.]--Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Anderson Tepper

...nothing is quite as revealing—as the portrait evoked by this simple, unadorned collection of letters between a young Naipaul ("Vido"), his father, Seepersad, and his older sister, Kamla. Together, the letters create a picture as wrenching as any novel, as vivid as any film (I can already picture the Merchant/Ivory production), with a story line that skips between the Caribbean, England and India in the aftermath of war and independence.
—Time Out New York

Abraham Verghese

'Between Father and Son'' is the record of an extraordinarily rich correspondence primarily between V. S. Naipaul (Vido in these letters) and his father, Seepersad Naipaul. It begins with Vido's arrival in England in 1950 and ends in 1953 with Seepersad's death...for V. S. Naipaul fans and particularly for future biographers and scholars, the correspondence is a treasure.
—The New York Times

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