Saturday, February 17, 2007

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall: A Novel

Vassanji, M.G. The In-Between World of Vikram Lall: A Novel. New York: Knopf, 2004.

Reviewed by Rebecca Stuhr

M.G. Vassanji is the gifted Giller Prize winning novelist of The Book of Secrets (1996), four other novels and three collections of short stories .* Born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania, Vassanji’s novels explore the experience of South Asians in Africa. In this novel, Vikram Lall’s in-between world is that of the African-Asian in colonial and post-colonial Africa—regardless of citizenship or nativity—the Asians in Vassanji’s novel are continuously aware of being neither completely accepted by the Black-Africans nor by the European-Africans. The in-between world is also Lull’s in-between emotional and moral state as a result of his experiences during the gruesome brutality of the Kenyan independence struggle and his involvement with post-colonial government corruption.

The novel is told from Lall’s point of view in exile in Toronto having been officially declared the most corrupt man in Kenya. Vassanji has Lall tell his story beginning with his happy childhood in Kenya with his parents, sister Deepa, his uncle and other extended family members and close family friends. He and his sister’s closest friend was Njoroge, a Kikuyu boy their own age. The three of them became friends with two white children, Annie and Bill. This happy childhood became more complicated as the Mau Mau insurrection entered their lives. Njoroge makes Lall swear a childish allegiance to Kenyatta and Lall discovers a beloved uncle’s secret activities in support of the Mau Mau. It wasn’t just that his uncle worked with the Mau Maus, it was the consequences of his action that troubled Lall, most significantly his feeling that his uncle is implicated in some way in the brutal murder of Annie and Bill and their parents. Lall never recovers from these horrific and tragic events. Vassanji’s character tells his story in a cold and detached manner. Lall expresses little guilt or regret for his shady business dealings. His story is just what it is—neither good nor bad.

Through this story the reader learns of the strange position of the Asians of Kenya in particular, and Africa in general and the post independence corruption that has stalled the development of Kenya and other African countries. The story of racism and corruption is a familiar one that can be picked up and set down on many different settings and time periods including, of course, our own. But this novel is not only a history lesson. Beneath it is the much more intimate story of the fate and fortunes of Vikram Lall and his family.

1st Floor PR9199.3.V388 I5 2004
*Other works by M.G. Vassanji
The Gunny Sack. Heinemann, 1989.
PR9381.9.V37 G86x 1989
No New Land: A Novel McClellend & Stewart, 1991
PR9381.9.V37 N6x 1991
Uhuru Street: Short Stories. Heineman, 1991
PR9381.9.V37 U48x 1991
The Book of Secrets. Picador, 1996.
PR9199.3.V388 B66 1996
Amriika. McClellend & Stewart, 1991.
PR9199.3.V388 A8 1999
When She Was Queen. (short stories) Doubleday Canada, 2005
Elvis, Raja: Stories. Penguin Books, 2005

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