Ian Buruma, Naipaul, and old letter on Singapore

The writer Ian Buruma says he was approached to write Naipaul’s biography a long time ago. He says this in his review of Patrick French’s biography, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul. Buruma writes in his article in the New York Review of Books:

I was approached in the early 1990s by Gillon Aitken, Naipaul’s literary agent, with the idea of writing an authorized biography, I was intrigued, flattered, and deeply apprehensive. The idea of writing the life of a man who was still alive was daunting enough. Such projects typically result in acrimony. The idea of writing the life of a man as fastidious and difficult as V.S. Naipaul was particularly daunting. And I was not at all sure that delving into the nooks and crannies of his private life would be a pleasure for me, or enlightening for the readers. I can still remember my sense of embarrassment when Naipaul, looking intently at his shiny brown shoes, began to tell me about his sexual frustrations, as we sat opposite one another in his oddly impersonal London flat. I knew then that this project was not for me. I doubted whether an honest book could be written by anyone while Naipaul was still alive.
I was wrong. The truth is not skimped in Patrick French’s excellent book.

Buruma, who is now Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, has written considerably on Asia — and faced some criticism.

Here is an old letter written by Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and formerly Singapore’s ambassador to the United Nations, in response to one of Buruma’s articles in the New York Review of Books.

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