The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 405 pages, 2003

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: The winner of the 2003 Giller Prize.

Synopsis: Vikram Lall has fled to Toronto after finding himself at the top of Kenya’s List of Shame, but he’s haunted by reminders of his past. As he writes his memoirs, from growing up Indian in Africa, to interracial love tearing his family apart, to his own corruption, Vikram begins to think he may need to make amends for his past deeds, no matter what consequences he must face in his war-torn homeland of Africa.

Why you should read this book: Vassanji’s slow pacing creeps up on you until you realize you’re completely absorbed in Vikram’s story. The backdrop of the conflict in Africa complements the plot without becoming lost in the details of history, not to mention the Indian-in-Africa idea feeling fresh and interesting. Vikram’s passionate younger sister Deepa is a good counterpoint to Vikram’s more reserved manner.

Why you should avoid this book: The story is light on the dialogue, which leads to an uncomfortable formalness or stiffness at various points in the book.

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 atttibuted 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 In this clement retreat to which I have withdrawn myself, away from the torrid current temper of my country, I find myself with all the time and seclusion I may ever need for my purpose.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.

Fabulous quotes:

The sun shone gloriously but without a thought for how much the land could bear, and only reluctantly, it seemed, did it go down to retire each night, during which interim no cloud dared come close to bring relief to the earth. And so the drought continued. Daytime heat was unrelenting, the streets and roads were dry, the grass was parched and yellow, the corn and wheat stalks in the farms were limp and red with dust. The weather map of Kenya in the newspaper showed the same feature from Moyale to Nairobi, Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean, Turkanaland to the border with Tanganyika: an open circle for a cloudless sunny sky. The weather charts we drew in school had gone from cheerful blue and sunny to a mindless white and yellow. The rains would not come.

That scene outside the train window I can conjure up at any time of the day or night; I would see, feel and experience it in similar ways so frequenty in my life; in some essential way it defines me. This was my country – how could it not be? Yes, there was that yearning for England, the land of Annie and Bill and the Queen, and for all the exciting, wonderful possibilities of the larger world out there. But this, all around me, was mine, where I belonged with my heart and soul.

Also recommended: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller; A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry; Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

Also by this author: The Assassin’s Song; When She was Queen; The Gunny Sack; No New Land; The Book of Secrets; Amriika; Uhuru Street.

Awards: Giller Prize: winner, 2003.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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