The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Dec 18, 2007 - Fiction - 384 pages
3 Reviews
Vikram Lall comes of age in 1950s Kenya, at the same time that the colony is struggling towards independence. Against the unsettling backdrop of Mau Mau violence, Vic and his sister Deepa, the grandchildren of an Indian railroad worker, search for their place in a world sharply divided between Kenyans and the British. We follow Vic from a changing Africa in the fifties, to the hope of the sixties, and through the corruption and fear of the seventies and eighties. Hauntingly told in the voice of the now exiled Vic, The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is an acute and bittersweet novel of identity and family, of lost love and abiding friendship, and of the insidious legacy of the British Empire.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

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As Vassanji's (The Book of Secrets ) novel begins, Vic, Deepa, and Njoroge, playmates in 1950s Kenya, are made aware of their country's turmoil and their own differences when a British family is ... Read full review

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Q. How did you choose this book to read?
A. I live in a housing community that sponsors a library open to residents. People often leave books outside this library. The library does not have enough
space for these hardbound books, so they are basically free. I needed a book to read on a trip away from home, and the opening sentence in this one hooked me.
Q. Do you recall what that opening sentence was?
A. Not word for word. It was something like, "My name is Vikram Lall. I am known as one of the most corrupt people in all of Africa."
Q. So did you enjoy the book?
A. Yes, immensely. I didn't want it to end. It was one of the best books I've read in many years, and in that period I've read dozens of books by many authors, fiction and non-fiction.
Q. So how did this book stand out, in your opinion?
A. It's fiction. Vikram Lall is writing in the first person and he stands in very well for his alter ego, the author himself, Vassanji. Many good novels, those novels written in the first person, seem very genuine, if they are at least a little bit autobiographical. Vikram Lall's story seems genuinely autobiographical or at least semi-autobiographical. Vikram and M. J. go hand in hand, to a certain extent. But in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, Vassanji tells us that he used many sources to increase the realism of his story. He was born in Kenya but grew up in Tanganyika, not Kenya. Everything seems real, but the author threw in some twists to make the whole story a bit more interesting.
Q. So what is Vikram Lall telling us, in the first person?
A. He begins at the end, an elderly retired person living near Toronto, in Canada, but quickly jumps back to his childhood. He grew up as a third generation Kenyan whose grandfather came from Punjab, India, to help build railroad tracks at the beginning of the 20th century. Vikram was born a little before World War II, and he relates his life from that time on. He grows up, goes to school, gets a government job, and moves up the bureaucratic ladder. His sister, Deepa, is his closest friend, and her story is actually even more interesting than his own. They both make a childhood friend of Njorge (this spelling is wrong but it's approximately this), a Kikuyan fellow living next door to the Lall's with his grandfather. Deepa eventually falls in love with Njorge but, as you can imagine, their interracial relationship is not acceptable to most others, including especially Vikram and Deepa's mother.
Q. So is this basically a coming-out story or a love story?
A. It's both of those, and also a book of suspense. Vassanji paces the book just right, with some background information here, some intrigue here, very little but just enough sexual content, filial duties and responsibilities, sibling relationships, politics in Kenya at the time of the Mau Mau uprising, the nature of Nairobi during those years, and on down the line. I learned a lot and want to read more of his works.
Q. Do you think the general reader would be interested in this book.
A. I think so. It has something for everybody. You need not be interested in Kenya, or even Africa, to find interest in this book. It's a human interest story, and one of the best, I think.

Selected pages


Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 18
Section 19
Section 20
Section 21
Section 22
Section 23
Section 24
Section 25

Section 9
Section 10
Section 11
Section 12
Section 13
Section 14
Section 15
Section 16
Section 17
Section 26
Section 27
Section 28
Section 29
Section 30
Section 31
Section 32

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Popular passages

Page 4 - Who is the third who walks always beside you?
Page 8 - To me has been artributed the emptying of a large part of my troubled country's treasury in recent years. I head my country's List of Shame.
Page 8 - In rhis clement retreat to which I have withdrawn myself, away from the torrid cutrent temper of my country, I find myself with all the rime and seclusion I may ever need tor my purpose.

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About the author (2007)

M.G. Vassanji was born in Kenya, and raised in Tanzania. He took a doctorate in physics at M.I.T. and came to Canada in 1978. While working as a research associate and lecturer at the University of Toronto in the 1980s he began to dedicate himself seriously to a longstanding passion: writing.His first novel, The Gunny Sack, won a regional Commonwealth Writers Prize, and he was invited to be writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa. The novel’s success was a spur, Vassanji has commented: “It was translated into several languages. I was confident that this was what I could do, that writing was not just wishful thinking. In 1989 I quit my full-time job and began researching The Book of Secrets.” That celebrated, bestselling novel won the inaugural Giller Prize, in 1994.Vassanji’s other books include the acclaimed novels No New Land (1991) and Amriika (1999), and Uhuru Street (1991), a collection of stories. His unique place in Canadian literature comes from his elegant, classical style, his narrative reach, and his interest in characters trying to reconcile different worlds within themselves. The subtle relations of the past and present are also constants in his writing: “When someone asks you where you are from or who you are, there is a whole resume of who you are. I know very few people who do not have a past to explain. That awareness is part of my work.”M.G. Vassanji was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize in 1994 in recognition of his achievement in and contribution to the world of letters, and was in the same year chosen as one of twelve Canadians on Maclean’s Honour Roll. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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