Saturday, January 24, 2004

Today's UK Guardian runs an admiring & admirable profile of Robert Silvers, co-founder & co-editor of the New York Review of Books, full of superb anecdotes, including this one:

V.S. Naipaul was an early contributor as well as a subject of reviews. He was to become one of the most noted foreign correspondents, and the way he was nourished and encouraged is typical of Silvers' style.

In 1972, when Naipaul was on the island of Trinidad, he determined to go to Argentina, a country then deeply forgotten and unfashionable. He asked Silvers for help, and Silvers, without hesitation, borrowed Naipaul's air-fare from his friend Dudley, and sent him off. Naipaul left a wonderful description of Silvers' style in his account of a trip to Dallas, Texas. "He asked me in 1984 to go and write about the Republican convention. He thought it might be interesting for me to study the language politicians use. I was uncertain about the project; so I paid my own expenses. I thought at the end of the week that I couldn't do anything with what I had found. He was disappointed--he was almost wounded. He said: 'You've left a hole in the paper'; from his tone the hole might have been in his heart. There was no word of rebuke, though. He continued during the next week or so, after I had gone back to England, to send me books and articles and cuttings about the convention; we talked on the telephone. And I began to see that an article was possible if I wrote, not about the convention but about what had happened around it, the sideshows. Eventually, the article appeared. It really wouldn't have been possible without him."

This degree of tireless, sympathetic badgering is hardly normal in journalism. Yet Silvers, still proud of the piece, remembers the headline they gave it: "Among the Republicans", as it might be "Among the Nuer", or, in the title of Naipaul's travel book on Muslim fundamentalists, Among the Believers.

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