The Book of Secrets: A Novel

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Macmillan, Dec 15, 1996 - Fiction - 360 pages
2 Reviews

In 1988, a retired schoolteacher named Pius Fernandes receives an old diary found in the back room of an East African shop. Written in 1913 by a British colonial administrator, the diary captivates Fernandes, who begins to research the coded history he encounters in its terse, laconic entries. What he uncovers is a story of forbidden liaisons and simmering vengeances, family secrets and cultural exiles--a story that leads him on an investigative journey through his own past and Africa's.

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The book of secrets

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After his initial examination of the "book of secrets," a fragment of a diary by a turn-of-the-century colonial official stationed in a remote outpost in British East Africa, the narrator, Pius ... Read full review

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Q. How did you like the book?
A. I thought it was interesting and informative. I'm interested in Africa, though I've never been there. To me, learning through story telling is a good way to learn
, and Vassanji is a maestro at this skill.
Q. What did you learn about Africa?
A. Most of the book takes place in Dar es Salaam, a major city on Africa's east coast, in a country which was once German East Africa, then a protectorate of the United Nations, then a free nation. I knew none of this. Vassanji takes us into the interior beyond Dar to experience life through several characters during World War I up until the early 1990's, when he published the book.
Q. Would you recommend this book to the general reader?
A. No, I would not. You have to be a patient reader, probably interested in Africa or Indians in Africa to get through this book. There are many slow parts and, in the end, the book goes more in a circular path than a straight line. It doubles back on itself, and the effect, to me, was fascinating. But there are many readers who don't want that type of novel; they want a straight line from start to finish and won't stand for this back and forth switching of perspectives, jumping around. But of course many of the greatest writers have already pioneered this type of novel.
Q. Such as?
A. Borges, Julio Cortazar, Donald Barthelme somewhat, Dave Barry, many more I can't think of right now.
Q. You're kidding about Dave Barry, right?
A. I wouldn't kid about such an important matter, would I?
Q. So that's it? Vassanji is in the literary vein of Borges et alia?
A. I think he's considered part of the Indian diaspora writers, with Naipaul, for example. Read the book and then you tell me.

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About the author (1996)

M. G. Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa in the International Writing Program. He is the winner of the Giller Prize, the Bressani Literary Prize, the Regional Commonwealth Prize, and the Harbourfront Festival Prize. He lives in Toronto.

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