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)