Thursday, March 16, 2006

#13 - The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

Wow, this book took me forever to read. M.G. Vassanji's epic story of Vikram Lall, a Kenyan-born Indian man who rises up through the ranks to become the country's most wanted, won the Giller in 2003. As much the story of a post-colonial Kenya and its struggle for independence as the story of Vic's life, the book covers roughly forty years, following the protagonist from youth to middle-age.

Vassanji interweaves the story of Vikram Lall, his family and some close friends with the social and political changes in Kenya before, during and after independence. Mainly Vic's voice is used as a gateway to the stories of his sister Deepa and Njoroge (the love of her life and an African), and the Lall extended family (grandparents, parents, Mahesh Uncle). The history of Vikram is both physically (his grandfather was a labourer who built the railroad) and metaphorically (how he finds himself 'in-between' worlds despite being born an African) tied to Kenya. Vassanji relays this in many ways, through the amount of detail paid to everyday life in Africa, the food they ate, the places they went, the life they led, as well through the distance the narrator keeps from both what he's seeing and the life he lived.

It's a difficult book to read for that very reason. So much of the story is told at arm's length, something I'm sure my creative writing class would cut apart, but it works on so many levels that keep the epic scope of the book tied so closely with the experiences of one man who absolutely refuses to experience anything fully.

In the end, I'm glad I read it because I am deeply interested in the perspective of life in Africa during the time after the British empire disbanded its colonial stronghold, and the book's bittersweet tone will probably have me thinking about it for days afterwards. And not just because I'm stuck at home being sick and tired and spaced out.

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