Daily Archives: 14 March 2007

Naipaul on Writing Fiction and Nonfiction

In the Guardian V. S. Naipaul looks back on his evolution as a writer.

I had no great love for [Trinidad], no love for its colonial smallness. I saw myself as a castaway from the world’s old civilisations, and I wished to be part of that bigger world as soon as possible. An academic scholarship in 1950, when I was 18, enabled me to leave. I went to England to do a university course with the ambition afterwards of being a writer. I never in any real sense went back.

So my world as a writer was full of flight and unfinished experience, full of the odds and ends of cultures and migrations, from India to the New World in 1880-1900, from the New World to Europe in 1950, things that didn’t make a whole. There was nothing like the stability of the rooted societies that had produced the great fictions of the 19th century, in which, for example, even a paragraph of a fairytale or parable by Tolstoy could suggest a whole real world. And soon I saw myself at the end of the scattered island material I carried with me.

But writing was my vocation; I had never wished to be anything but a writer. My practice as a writer had deepened the fascination with people and narrative that I had always had, and increasingly now, in the larger world I had wanted to join, that fascination was turning into a wish to understand the currents of history that had created the fluidity of which I found myself a part. It was necessary for me as a writer to engage with the larger world. I didn’t know how to set about it; there was no example I could follow.

The practice of fiction couldn’t help me. Fiction is best done from within and out of great knowledge. In the larger world I was an outsider; I didn’t know enough and would never know enough. After much hesitation and uncertainty I saw that I had to deal with this world in the most direct way. I had to go against my practice as a fiction writer. To record my experience as truthfully as possible I had to use the tools I had developed. So there came this divide in my writing: free-ranging fiction and scrupulous non-fiction, one supporting and feeding the other, complementary aspects of my wish to get to grips with my world. And though I had started with the idea of the nobility of the writer of the imagination, I do not now rate one way above the other.

via Arts & Letters Daily

When I finished high school I wanted to be a writer, and I studied journalism when I first started college (before dropping out). But I had already discovered that I couldn’t write very convincing dialogue, and my journalism professor told me I wrote in a very “scientific” style. So I ended up writing analytical essays, academic arguments, and—much later—travelogues. My youngest brother is the fiction-writer in the family, as was our maternal grandmother, who alternated between school-teaching and (mostly religious) writing.

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Filed under India, literature, travel, Trinidad

Japan’s Forgotten Self-Abductees

The Marmot’s Hole cites a new study by ANU professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki on North Korea’s forgotten victims, the Koreans who “returned” to North Korea from Japan between 1959 and 1984, with much encouragement from the Japanese government. Read the whole thing.

Between 1959 and 1984, these few were among the 93,340 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea in search of the new and better life. There were several particularly ironic features of this migration. First, it took place precisely at the time of Japan’s “economic miracle”. Secondly, although it was described as a “repatriation”, almost all those who “returned” to North Korea originally came from the south of the Korean peninsula, and many had been born and lived all their lives in Japan. Third, the glowing images of life which tempted them to Kim Il-Sung’s “worker’s paradise” came, not just from the North Korean propaganda machine but from the Japanese mainstream media, supported and encouraged by politicians including key members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The Marmot adds:

PS: Obviously, this whole affair, if true, is not exactly analogous to Operation Keelhaul [Wikipedia], when thousands of anti-communist Eastern Europeans (many of whom were Nazi collaborators) in Allied-occupied Europe were handed over to the Soviets and Yugoslavs after the war. But it’s a tragedy nevertheless. One famous survivor of the repatriation, of course, is defector Kang Chol-hwan [Wikipedia], the author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang who spent his first years in Japan before his parents returned to North Korea. He spent much of the rest of his childhood in Yodok Prison Camp [Wikipedia], thanks to North Korea’s humane practice of incarcerating entire families [New York Times].

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Filed under Japan, Korea