28 May 2009

Review: The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji

I picked this one up as part of my continuing efforts to read all the winners of the Giller prize. (I've read 12, I think, of 16.) MG Vassanji is a two-time winner of the prize and his other winner, The Book of Secrets, is still on my to-be-read pile. (It's also on my mental to-be-bought list, but one day...)

From The New Yorker, a description: 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.

Opening paragraph:
My name is Vikram Lall. I have the distinction of having been numbered one of Africa's most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning. To me has been attributed the emptying of a large part of my troubled country's treasury in recent years. I head my country's List of Shame. These and other descriptions actually flatter my intelligence, if not my moral sensibility. But I do not intend here to defend myself or even seek redemption through confession; I simply crave to tell my story. In this clement retreat to which I have withdrawn myself, away from the torrid current temper of my country, I find myself with all the time and seclusion I may ever need for my purpose. I have even come upon a small revelation – and as I proceed daily to recall and reflect, and lay out on the page, it is with an increasing conviction of its truth, that if more of us told our stories to each other, where I come from, we would be a far happier and less nervous people.

I enjoyed this book; I wasn't sure if I would. It has a sort of slow movement and beginning, a sort of memoir of someone you're not sure you're interested in knowing. But then the background and the history, the Mau Mau Uprising and then Independence and the corruption later began to interest me, as well as the in-betweenness of Vikram and his family - Indians who consider themselves African, but who nevertheless do not seem to belong in the country they call home.

I think what keeps me from giving this book a higher rating is the dispassionate retelling of the story. Vikram does talk about his coldness, but somehow his disengagement kept me just that much disengaged as well.

MG Vassanji is the author of several novels and a couple books of short stories, including The Book of Secrets, The Assassin's Song, and When She was Queen. Vassanji has won the Giller prize (twice, for this and for The Book of Secrets, as well as The Commonwealth Writers Prize. MG Vassanji's website can be found here.

Vassanji, MG. The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2004.
Finished: 28 May 2009
Rating: 4 of 5
This was 3rd book in May and my 17th in 2009.

*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.

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