Review of Literary Occasions
V. S. Naipaul’s Literary Occasions presents a collection of essays as he finds himself both writer and social being. The essays intertwine as Naipaul struggles to find the balance between a multi heritage upbringing and to translate that experience into words. I greatly enjoyed Literary Occasions as it allows the reader to experience all the factors that influence a writer, be it their family, other writers, or travels. Naipaul decided he was to be a writer at a young age and learns that his first stories come from the place he thought prevented him from writing. What appealed to me the most was the completion that the essays accomplished in regards to the life of a man in a culture so vastly different from my own.
Naipaul states early in the collection that he was young when he knew he wished to be a writer, before he really knew anything about writing. The focus of the book becomes evident when Naipaul shares his struggle to understand literature of different lands. His conclusion is that it is impossible to understand an unknown culture through a book. Naipaul struggles to identity with his own culture. Contrary to his beliefs, his first spark of inspiration comes from a memory from the streets of his upbringing, Port of Spain. This, alongside memories of his father and their ongoing letters, lead Naipaul to being a writer. These are all factors from his upbringing that Naipaul wrote off earlier as unhelpful.
The irony in these essays evolves as the reader begins to understand Naipaul’s culture. Despite Naipaul’s inability to understand other cultures, he is easily able to bring his own culture to the audience. Naipaul is able to find peace with his confused cultural identity by writing both fiction and nonfiction, reporting on Trinidad and India. Much like Naipaul’s own upbringing, his writing represents years of history presented by the land, culture, and stories.
The theme of Naipaul finding himself as a person so that he could write remains a constant in all of the included essays. However, the one factor that took away from the overall book was the selection of particular essays next to one another. By the end of the reading, some of the essays sounded so similar that the repetition makes finishing the book a burden. To avoid this the reader should choose their own selection of essays. By sharing his confused upbringing and his inspiration, Naipaul allows the reader to know his culture and perhaps lead the reader to consider what makes them who they are.