This past August saw the thirtieth anniversary of the tragically early death of the writer Shiva Naipaul, the younger brother of the better-known novelist V. S. (Vidia) Naipaul. Shiva, who was less prolific but arguably equally talented, died at the age of forty, likely robbing us of an important literary career. The writing he did produce, however—including two comic novels set in his homeland of Trinidad, an allegorical novel set in South America, and two controversial travel books—has held up well.

The overarching literary preoccupation of Naipaul, who was born in Trinidad to an Indian family and educated in England, was the Third World. He returned to the subject repeatedly in his pessimistic, even misanthropic, and sometime ...