Synopses & Reviews
This is an intimate portrait of a friendship, its beginning, middle, and end. And it describes that rarest and most fragile of alliances, a literary friendship. One year before he published his first book, Paul Theroux met V. S. Naipaul--Vidia, as he was known. For thirty years both men remained in close touch, even when continents separated them. Sir Vidia's Shadow is a double portrait of the writing life, but it is much more, for travel and reading and emotional ups and downs are also aspects of this friendship, which is powerful and enriching and often a comedy--and, ultimately, a bridge that is burned. The two writers' paths crossed in 1966 in Uganda, which Naipaul saw as a dangerous jungle and Theroux regarded as a benign home. Theroux became Naipaul's driver, interpreter, and apprentice--he was twenty-three and Naipaul thirty-four. Theroux was guided by the older writer, but as the years passed their positions were frequently reversed, as Naipaul sought Theroux's guidance and advice. They became each other's editors, confidants, and teachers. From Singapore to London, India to South America, the United States and back to Africa, the writers corresponded and crossed paths. Naipaul's brother, Shiva, is part of the story, and so is Margaret, Naipaul's Anglo-Argentine companion. A formidable and intensely private figure, who was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth and is often cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize, Naipaul was close to few others except his first and second wives and Theroux himself. Naipaul was the first to read and champion Theroux's earliest efforts. Over time, they witnessed each other's successes and failures. Built around exotic landscapes, anecdotes that arerevealing, humorous, and melancholy, and three decades of mutual history, this is a very personal account of how one develops as a writer, how a friendship waxes and wanes between two men who have set themselves on the perilous journey of a writing life, and what constitutes the relationship of mentor and student. Told with Theroux's impeccable eye for place and setting and his novelistic instinct for character and incident, Sir Vidia's Shadow recalls Nicholson Baker's U and I: A True Story, Rainer Maria Rilke's classic Letters to a Young Poet, and Boswell's Life of Johnson, but it is nearly without precedent in anatomizing the nature of writing as well as the nature of friendship itself.
"A compact, provocative gem of a novel." Boston Globe
"Vigorous and evocative . . . the kind of story you force yourself to savor slowly though you're dying to find out what happens next." The Washington Post
"Both unputdownable and utterly engaging."
Times Literary Supplement
This heartfelt and revealing account of Paul Theroux's thirty-year friendship with the legendary V. S. Naipaul is an intimate record of a literary mentorship that traces the growth of both writers' careers and explores the unique effect each had on the other. Built around exotic landscapes, anecdotes that are revealing, humorous, and melancholy, and three decades of mutual history, this is a personal account of how one develops as a writer and how a friendship waxes and wanes between two men who have set themselves on the perilous journey of a writing life.
About the Author
PAUL THEROUX's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.
Table of Contents
Part One AFRICA
1. Famous in Kampala 3 2. "I'm Not Everyone" 17 3. The Kaptagat Arms 44 4. On Safari in Rwanda 72
Part Two THE WRITER'S WRITER
5. Christmas Pudding 103 6. Excursion to Oxford 130 7. Air Letters: A Correspondence Course 144 8. The 9:50 to Waterloo 165 9. "I Must Keep Some Secrets" 185 10. Lunch Party 203
Part Three SIR VIDIA'S SHADOW
11. The Householder 219 12. My Friend's Friend 236 13. Death Is the Motif 250 14. Tainted Vegetables 264 15. "It's Major" 280
Part Four REVERSALS
16. Poetry of Departures 297 17. A Wedding Is a Happy Funeral 307 18. Literature Is for the Wounded and the Damaged 321 19. Exchanges 337 20. Sir Vidia's Shadow 352