"Natives on the Boat", a sharp, sensitive vignette in which Teju Cole describes an encounter with VS Naipaul in a New York City apartment:
Our host drifted away, and Vidia and I continued chatting about this and that. Swift judgments came down. The simplicity in Hemingway was “bogus” and nothing, Vidia said, like his. “Things Fall Apart” was a fine book, but Achebe’s refusal to write about his decades in America was disappointing. “Heart of Darkness” was good, but structurally a failure. I asked him about the biography by Patrick French, “The World Is What it Is,” which he had authorized. He stiffened. That book, which was extraordinarily well-written, was also shocking in the extent to which it revealed a nasty, petty, and insecure man. “One gives away so much in trust,” Vidia said. “One expects a certain discretion. It’s painful, it’s painful. But that’s quite alright. Others will be written. The record will be corrected.” He sounded like a boy being brave after gashing his thumb.
The party was ending. I said, “This was not what I expected.” “Oh?” he said, some new mischief in his eyes, “And what did you expect?” “I don’t know. Not this. I thought you’d be surly, and that I’d be rude.” He was pleased. “Very good, very good. So you must write about this. You must write it down, so that others know. That would be good for you, too.” The combination of ego, tenderness, and sly provocation was typical.
Finally, after about twenty minutes, Nadira came for her husband. The hand lifted itself from its resting place on my knee. This benevolent old rheumy-eyed soul: so fond of the word “nigger,” so aggressive in his lack of sympathy towards Africa, so brutal in his treatment of women. He knew nothing about that. He knew only that he needed help standing up, needed help walking across the grand marble-floored foyer towards the private elevator.
The city below. At certain heights, you get vertigo, but you also see what you otherwise might not.