The only Canadian novelist to have won the Giller Prize twice —for The Book of Secret in 1994 and The in-Between World of Vikram Lall in 2003— is none other M. G. Vassanji. He also won the Governor General’ s Literary Award for Non-Fiction for A Place Within (2009). Such recognition is warranted, for Vassanji writes both fiction and non-fiction with an inquisitive, lyrical style and a knack for storytelling. It is no surprise that his latest memoir And Home Was Kariakoo also captivates its readers with sharp insight and poetic descriptions of his homeland.
In this book, Vassanji revisits his childhood home: East Africa. At times, the book feels like a travelogue, for the authors tells us about his trek across Tanzania and Kenya. But unlike other travel writers (like Paul Theroux) who like to point out the dark side of Africa, Vassanji expresses awe for this land and its people:
“What makes this primitiveness, this forbidding solitude of the jungle so wrenchingly attractive from a distance? There is in this stillness a certain spirituality, a welcome loneliness that I’ve often treasured in my travels, in which there seems to be only the universe and I an endless moment devoid of fear or death.”
At other time, this work reads like a history book. Vassanji’s work informs us on the colonization and of these countries by European, Indian, and Asian immigrants. He maps out unfamiliar events that helped shape these countries, and thus dispels several Western myths. He also entertains us by telling us about his adventures with befriended locals and expatriates in various African cities and the changed landmarks he revisits.
This book offers a fresh, in-depth look at a society often misunderstood by Westerners. And Home Was Kariakoo delves into the world that helped make M. G. Vassanji the sensitive, seasoned man he is today.
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*