Sir Vidia's Shadow by Paul Theroux
A Friendship Across Five Continents

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Synopsis

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 are revealing, 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.
 

About Paul Theroux

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Born in Medford, Massachusetts, Paul Theroux's writing reflects his relatively footloose life. Though known primarily as a travel writer, Theroux's literary output also includes novels, books for children, short stories, and poetry. His novels include Picture Palace (1978), which won the Whitbread Award; The Mosquito Coast (1981), which won the James Tait Black Award; Saint Jack (1973), filmed in 1979; and Doctor Slaughter (1984), filmed as Half Moon Street in 1987. Although Theroux has also written general travel books and books about various modes of transport, his name is synonymous with the literature of train travel. He has remarked that "ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it. Those whistles sing bewitchment; railways are irresistible bazaars." Theroux's 1975 best-seller, The Great Railway Bazaar, takes the reader through Asia. His second book about train travel, The Old Patagonian Express (1979), describes his trip from Boston to the tip of South America. His third contribution to the railway travel genre, Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China (1989), won the Thomas Cook Prize for best literary travel book in 1989. Theroux's leisure interest in rowing perhaps accounts in part for his latest book, The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992). He traveled to 51 islands and 1 continent by cargo ship, train, and collapsible kayak. He explored obscure coastal nooks, juts, and islets and included, according to an article in the National Geographic Traveler, ". . . summary lessons on the concept of South Sea paradises, cargo cults, cannibalism, privately owned islands, missionaries, Thor Heyerdahl, diet, and colonialism.
 
Published January 1, 1998 by HAMISH HAMILTON LTD. 384 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Travel, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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The detailed story of a long, top-heavy friendship that took a sudden nosedive, from novelist and travel writer Theroux (Kowloon Tong, 1997, etc.).

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Publishers Weekly

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This was then seized upon by Naipaul's hastily married second wife (a Pakistani newspaper columnist who would seem, in her bumptiousness and careless writing, the antithesis of everything Naipaul cherished) to create a rift with Theroux.

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London Review of Books

This is a book about Naipaul having stopped writing.

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The Caribbean Review of Books (CRB)

Some of its anecdotes have become almost legendary — Naipaul telling a student that she has no literary ability, but “lovely handwriting” — and the closing scene, in which a perplexed Theroux is finally rebuffed by Naipaul on a London street, offers one of the most cut-you-dead farewell lines in ...

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