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Indian children living in Kenya, Vic and his sister, Deepa, play outside their parents' store, along with an African boy, Njoroge, and two English children who live nearby. These are happy days, but they are not to last. The fate of this handful of friends sets the stage for Vassanji's richly descriptive, unforgettable novel about innocence, loss, and national identity.
Its the 1950s, and as African rebels unleash a wave of violence upon the British colonials, Kenya struggles toward independence. It is a time of betrayal, and the psyches of the children are branded in this troubled period as their trusted servants, friends, and relatives are involved in unspeakable crimes. Vassanji follows his characters through subsequent decades, as Vic and Deepa find their way in newly independent Kenya. Tethered to the unwanted shadows cast by their ethnicity, convention renders them unable to marry those they desire. They exist "on an unstable, narrow rope bridge that could twist and tangle and throw the unwary into the deep chasm below."
An older Vic narrates from his place of exile in Canada, recalling his refusal to take the advice of a trusted friend to "Stay away from politics." This decision has grave consequences, but Vassanji's brilliantly assured writing refuses to capitulate to moralization, choosing instead a deft portrayal of the difficulty of forging a good life in a time of political upheaval. (Holiday 2004 Selection)
In this novel set among Kenya’s Indian diaspora, two ill-fated loves—Vikram Lall’s for a young English girl, his sister’s for a young African man—symbolize their family’s tenuous social position as neither privileged oppressor nor righteous oppressed. Vikram, now in exile in Canada, recounts Kenya’s painful process of decolonization and his own role laundering money for government officials, an activity that he justifies as the survival tactic of one considered “inherently disloyal” because of his race. Vikram’s chilly amorality pervades this tautly written novel somewhat to its detriment. Although the narrative builds to the thawing of Vikram’s frozen conscience, his professions of remorse are pro forma, and his return to Kenya in search of redemption feels forced. Still, the book admirably captures the tenor of the postcolonial period: the predicament of the Asian minority, the corruption that marred Kenya’s fledgling independence, and the individual tragedies that were the cost of revolution.
As an Indian child growing up in 1950s Kenya, Vikram Lall is at the center of two warring worlds-one of childhood innocence, the other "a colonial world of repressive, undignified subjecthood" in which the innocent often meet with the cruelest of fates. He passes his early days in Nakuru playing with his sister, Deepa, their neighborhood friend Njoroge, and English expatriates Annie and Bill Bruce. Though Vic is third-generation African, he understands that Njo is somehow more Kenyan than he or his family will ever be. Police regularly raid Nakuru looking for Mau Mau rebels, who are terrorists in the eyes of Europeans, but freedom fighters to native Kenyans; one day tragedy strikes the Lall family's English friends. Haunted by a grisly description of the crime scene, the Lalls eventually pick up and move to Nairobi. Fast-forward to 1965, when Kenya has achieved independence and Mau Mau sympathizer Jomo Kenyatta is now the president of the nation. Njo, who worshipped Jomo from an early age, is a rising star in the new government. He tracks down the Lalls in Nairobi and begins an innocent courtship of Deepa, much to her parents' chagrin. Meanwhile, Vic continues to allow his memory of young Annie to define his life and, as a result, makes some morally ambiguous judgments when he lands a position in the new government. Telling his story from Canada, where he fled after getting top billing on Kenya's "List of Shame" as one of the most financially corrupt men in his country, Vic is a voice for all those who wonder about the price of the struggle for freedom. Vassanji, who was the 2003 winner of Canada's Giller Prize, explores a conflict of epic proportions from the perspective of a man trapped in "the perilous in-between," writing with a deftness and evenhandedness that distinguish him as a diligent student of political and historical complexities and a riveting storyteller. Agent, Bruce Westwood. 3-city author tour. (Sept. 19) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
This 2003 Giller Prize-winning novel tracks the life of Vikram Lall, who is of Indian descent, from a childhood in 1950s Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising through service with African friend Njoroge in an increasingly corrupt postindependence government. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Born and raised in East Africa, Indian Vassanji describes in spare but resonant prose the depressing realities of post-colonial Africa in telling the story of a man whose life is blighted by the times. Having fled Kenya and now living in Canada, where he's been accused of bribery, Vikram poignantly recalls the past and his childhood home, even though as an Indian he was never fully accepted by Africans. In 1953, Vikram is an eight-year-old living contentedly with his family in a Kenyan village where his father runs a general store. Vikram, like his younger sister Deepa, is a third-generation African-Indian-their grandfather came from India to build the railroad in the late 1800s-and Kenya indeed is home. The siblings are close friends of the white Bruce children, as well as of Kikuyu Njoroge, whom Vikram's mother calls her son. But the times are not propitious for interracial harmony: the famous "winds of change" are blowing through Africa, promising an end to British rule. The Mau Mau, the notorious Kikuya freedom fighters, brutally kill the entire Bruce family, and when Njoroge's grandfather is arrested as a suspect, Njoroge has to go away to school. With Independence, the Lalls move to Nairobi, where, initially, they prosper. Like Njoroge, whom he meets up with again, Vikram admires President Kenyatta, but their early optimism sours as politicians demand bribes and Indians are increasingly threatened by violence unless they hand over their businesses. Njoroge, in love with Deepa, who loves him in return even though her family insists she marry an Indian, is soon involved in dangerous opposition politics. Though Vikram flourishes, it's at a price-friends are murdered, families emigrate,and no one can be trusted. Yet the cost of exile is even higher. His past thus revisited, Vikram decides now to clear his name, even if so doing endangers his life. A bleak but affecting portrait of loss by a master writer (Amerika, 2001, etc.) come fully into his own. (N.B.: This is Vassanji's fifth novel and second Giller Prize winner.)Agent: Bruce Westwood
"Gorgeous and heart-rending. . . . Vassanji explores [love and loss] with all the tact of a true literary power." Chicago Tribune“Brilliantly written and deeply felt, it is a resonant family novel that is also a brutally honest portrayal of the last half century of tumultuous Kenyan history. . . . Vassanji displays his great gifts; this beautiful novel, which unfolds with intimacy and an inexorable sense of destiny, is proof that fictional truth can illuminate an epoch in history like nothing else.”–The Boston Globe“Tautly written. . . . Admirably captures the tenor of the postcolonial period: the predicament of the Asian minority, the corruption that marred Kenya’s fledgling independence, and the individual tragedies that were the cost of the revolution.”–The New Yorker“A novel of elegant gesture, complex understanding, bright passion, and historical pain.”–O, The Oprah Magazine“Finely drawn . . . an ambitious and enthralling work.”–The Times Literary Supplement