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(03/20/2008) The In-Between World Of Vikram Lall by M. G. Vassanji. New York. 2004. Knopf. keywords: Literature India Africa Kenya. 373 pages. Jacket photographs: Untitled, 1962, by Malick Sidibe, Borje Tobiasson /Panos Pictures. Jacket design by Peter Mendelsund. 140004216x. September 2004.

A novel of Kenya in the 1950s from the point-of-view of an East Indian Kenyan. This novel provides an interesting fictional counterpoint to Caroline Elkins' award-winning book on the Kenyan gulags after World War II.

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   WINNER OF CANADA'S PRESTIGIOUS 2003 GILLER PRIZE. Kenya, 1953: The British colony celebrates Queen Elizabeth's coronation, just as the Mau Mau guerrilla war begins to gain strength. In the midst of a violent and fearful climate of racist attitudes and calls for freedom, a diverse group of children meet and become friends in a small upcountry town. Eight-year-old Vic and his younger sister, Deepa, of Indian descent; Njoroge, an African boy; and British siblings Annie and Bill play all sorts of make-believe games reflecting the surrounding reality. When one day their innocent games are brought to a brutal conclusion, their world tumbles around them. Against the backdrop of a chaotic and changing Kenya, we follow Vic into an adulthood still shrouded by the fear in which his childhood ended. He is an 'inbetween man. ' An Asian, he stands between the white colonials and the black Africans; his homeland is Kenya, but in the 1960s-in the early, heady years of independence and of Jomo Kenyatta's presidency-he feels unimportant and irrelevant to the new nation. He is a man who learns early not to take too strong a stand but to simply remain in-between and go along. When Vic takes a job in civil service, he becomes an in-between man of another sort: a conduit for influence brokers. And as the hopefulness of the 1960s gives way to the pervasive corruption and repression of the 1970S and 1980s, Vic is drawn deeper and deeper into the official orbit of graft and power-brokering, pocketing ever-larger bribes, buying protection from Kenyatta himself-finally earning 'the distinction of having been numbered one of Africa's most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning. ' At the same time, we see how Njoroge lives through the remnants of his youthful idealism, taking hold of unexpected opportunities-as a Kikuyu, he is a member of Kenyatta's ruling class and reigniting in adulthood the abiding love for Deepa that began when they were children. But neither Njoroge's idealism nor Vic's cynicism will be powerful enough to stave off the tragedies that await them. Narrated by Vic-now living in temporary hiding and seclusion on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, captive to 'the mind's demonic theatre'- THE IN-BETWEEN WORLD OF VIKRAM LALL is stark and moving, a haunting story of great depth and breadth about the betrayal of the innocence and hope of youth.

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 Amnriika. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.

 

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