2003 Giller Prize winner (Canada)
Synopses & Reviews
M. G. Vassanji, author of The Book of Secrets
, winner of the first Giller prize, brings us a novel that is rich in sensuous detail and political insight, and brilliantly captures the tyranny of history and memory, and questions one's role and responsibility in lawless times.
Born in colonial Kenya, Vikram Lall comes of age at the same moment as the colony, which in 1953 is celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II even as the Mau Mau independence movement is challenging British rule. But while Kenya is being torn apart by idealism, doubt and violent political upheaval, Vic and his sister Deepa begin to search for their place in the world. Neither colonists nor African, neither white nor black, the Indian brother and sister find themselves somewhere in between in their band of playmates: Bill and Annie, British children, and Njoroge, an African boy. These are the friendships that will haunt the rest of their lives.
We follow Vic from a changing Africa in the fifties, to the sixties a time of immense promise. But when that hope is betrayed by the corruption and fear of the seventies and eighties, Vic finds himself drawn into the Kenyatta government's orbit of graft and power-brokering. Njoroge, on the other hand, can abandon neither the idealism of his youth nor his love for Deepa, coerced into marrying within her Indian community. But neither the cynicism of the one nor the idealism of the other can avert the tragedies that await.
Acute and bittersweet, The In-between World of Vikram Lall is told in the voice of the exiled Vic as he contemplates from the shores of Lake Ontario the tides that have brought him so far from home and the possibility that even as history was shaping him, he has had a hand in altering its course.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A bleak but affecting portrait of loss by a master writer come fully into his own." Kirkus Reviews
"A fascinating story of what it means to shift between countries, cultures, and versions of a life. Recommend this to readers of V. S. Naipaul, Wole Soyinka, and other accomplished chroniclers of postcolonial worlds." Booklist
"It is part of Vassanji's great talent to demonstrate that the minor changes unexpected love, sex, accusations in the life of a very modest man are, in fact, transformations of history." The Toronto Globe and Mail
The author of The Book of Secrets, winner of the first Giller prize, brings readers a novel that is rich in sensuous detail and political insight. Neither colonists nor African, neither white nor black, an Indian brother and sister find themselves somewhere in between in their band of playmates. These are the friendships that will haunt the rest of their lives.
About the Author
M. G. Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. Before moving to Canada in 1978, he attended M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania, and later was writer in residence at the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa. Vassanji is the author of four acclaimed novels: The Gunny Sack, which won a regional Commonwealth Prize; No New Land; The Book of Secrets, which won the very first Giller Prize; and Amriika. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.