The In-between World Of Vikram Lall

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The In-between World Of Vikram Lall

by M.g. Vassanji

Doubleday Canada | September 14, 2004 | Trade Paperback |

3.375 out of 5 rating. 8 Reviews
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Double Giller Prize winner M.G. Vassanji's The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is a haunting novel of corruption and regret that brings to life the complexity and turbulence of Kenyan society in the last five decades. Rich in sensuous detail and historical insight, this is a powerful story of passionate betrayals and political violence, racial tension and the strictures of tradition, told in elegant, assured prose.

The novel begins in 1953, with eight-year-old Vikram Lall a witness to the celebrations around the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, just as the Mau Mau guerilla war for independence from Britain begins to gain strength. In a land torn apart by idealism, doubt, political upheaval and terrible acts of violence, Vic and his sister Deepa must find their place among a new generation. Neither colonists nor African, neither white nor black, the Indian brother and sister find themselves somewhere in between in their band of playmates: Bill and Annie, British children, and Njoroge, an African boy. These are the relationships that will shape the rest of their lives.

We follow Vikram through the changes in East African society, the immense promise of the fifties and sixties. But when that hope is betrayed by the corruption and violence of the following decades, Vic is drawn into the Kenyatta government's orbit of graft and power-broking. Njoroge, his childhood friend, can abandon neither the idealism of his youth nor his love for Vic's sister Deepa. But neither the idealism of the one nor the passive cynicism of the other can avert the tragedies that await them.

In interviews given when the novel was published, Vassanji commented that The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is the first of his books to deal with his memories of Kenya, where he spent the first 5 years of his life: "I remember these images of fear, of terror. And I thought I had to come back to that and see the whole Mau Mau episode from the Asian point of view. I had never written a book set in Kenya, where my father was from. And when I did, I just felt good about it, because I was going back to one part, one of many homes."

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, a compelling record in the voice of a character described as "a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning," took three years to write. After research in Kenya and Britain, M.G. Vassanji devoted himself to the novel in a dark office at the University of Toronto. It was a hard process of creation and discovery, especially as Vassanji is an assiduous editor of his own work: "I come back to it over and over. For me, it's like working on a sculpture. You sort of chip away a bit at a time until you tell yourself it's as perfect as you can make it." Vassanji's fifth novel met with immense Canadian and international success. As well as making him the first author to win the Giller Prize twice, the book was a #1 national bestseller.

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is a profound and careful examination of one man's search for his place in the world; it also takes up themes that have run through Vassanji's work, such as the nature of community in a volatile society, the relations between colony and colonizer, and the inescapable presence of the past. It is also, finally, a deeply personal book:

"The major thing that stands out in the book is people who are in-between. The feeling of belonging and not belonging is very central to the book. And that also played out in my life. When we lived in Tanzania we belonged and did not belong because we had come from Kenya. That has been a major thread in my life."


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 416 Pages, 4.72 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: September 14, 2004

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385659911

ISBN - 13: 9780385659918

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– More About This Product –

The In-between World Of Vikram Lall

by M.g. Vassanji

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 416 Pages, 4.72 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: September 14, 2004

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385659911

ISBN - 13: 9780385659918

Read from the Book

“Who is the third who walks always beside you?” -- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land “Neti, neti.” (Not this, not that.) -- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad “Po pote niendapo anifuata.” (Wherever I go he follows me.) -- Swahili riddle; answer: shadow My name is Vikram Lall. I have the distinction of having been numbered one of Africa’s most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning. To me has been attributed the emptying of a large part of my troubled country’s treasury in recent years. I head my country’s List of Shame. These and other descriptions actually flatter my intelligence, if not my moral sensibility. But I do not intend here to defend myself or even seek redemption through confession; I simply crave to tell my story. In this clement retreat to which I have withdrawn myself, away from the torrid current temper of my country, I find myself with all the time and seclusion I may ever need for my purpose. I have even come upon a small revelation -- and as I proceed daily to recall and reflect, and lay out on the page, it is with an increasing conviction of its truth, that if more of us told our stories to each other, where I come from, we would be a far happier and less nervous people. I am quite an ordinary man, as you will discover, and moderate almost to a fault. How I came upon my career and my distinction is a surprise even to me. But my times were exceptional and they would leave no one unscathed. Part 1 -- The
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From the Publisher

Double Giller Prize winner M.G. Vassanji's The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is a haunting novel of corruption and regret that brings to life the complexity and turbulence of Kenyan society in the last five decades. Rich in sensuous detail and historical insight, this is a powerful story of passionate betrayals and political violence, racial tension and the strictures of tradition, told in elegant, assured prose.

The novel begins in 1953, with eight-year-old Vikram Lall a witness to the celebrations around the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, just as the Mau Mau guerilla war for independence from Britain begins to gain strength. In a land torn apart by idealism, doubt, political upheaval and terrible acts of violence, Vic and his sister Deepa must find their place among a new generation. Neither colonists nor African, neither white nor black, the Indian brother and sister find themselves somewhere in between in their band of playmates: Bill and Annie, British children, and Njoroge, an African boy. These are the relationships that will shape the rest of their lives.

We follow Vikram through the changes in East African society, the immense promise of the fifties and sixties. But when that hope is betrayed by the corruption and violence of the following decades, Vic is drawn into the Kenyatta government's orbit of graft and power-broking. Njoroge, his childhood friend, can abandon neither the idealism of his youth nor his love for Vic's sister Deepa. But neither the idealism of the one nor the passive cynicism of the other can avert the tragedies that await them.

In interviews given when the novel was published, Vassanji commented that The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is the first of his books to deal with his memories of Kenya, where he spent the first 5 years of his life: "I remember these images of fear, of terror. And I thought I had to come back to that and see the whole Mau Mau episode from the Asian point of view. I had never written a book set in Kenya, where my father was from. And when I did, I just felt good about it, because I was going back to one part, one of many homes."

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, a compelling record in the voice of a character described as "a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning," took three years to write. After research in Kenya and Britain, M.G. Vassanji devoted himself to the novel in a dark office at the University of Toronto. It was a hard process of creation and discovery, especially as Vassanji is an assiduous editor of his own work: "I come back to it over and over. For me, it's like working on a sculpture. You sort of chip away a bit at a time until you tell yourself it's as perfect as you can make it." Vassanji's fifth novel met with immense Canadian and international success. As well as making him the first author to win the Giller Prize twice, the book was a #1 national bestseller.

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is a profound and careful examination of one man's search for his place in the world; it also takes up themes that have run through Vassanji's work, such as the nature of community in a volatile society, the relations between colony and colonizer, and the inescapable presence of the past. It is also, finally, a deeply personal book:

"The major thing that stands out in the book is people who are in-between. The feeling of belonging and not belonging is very central to the book. And that also played out in my life. When we lived in Tanzania we belonged and did not belong because we had come from Kenya. That has been a major thread in my life."


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

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 recogni
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Editorial Reviews

"An astonishing tapestry of irresistible vignettes, brilliantly exploring the painful lessons of history . . . a mesmerizing literary landscape. . . . [with] luminous characters and inspiring prose." –from the comments of the 2003 Giller Prize jury "This novel is one of the most satisfying you will come across . . . . What Vassanji does wonderfully well, with zero hectoring and unsettling calm, is describe the complexity of race relations in post-colonial, multi-cultural societies. . . . It’s the reason this novel is both a gripping story and an enduring historical document." –Donna Bailey Nurse in The National Post " The In-Between World of Vikram Lall . . . wrestles passionately and intelligently with big intractable questions. Belonging in a category with Tolstoy’s War and Peace , Vassanji’s saga is sweeping in scope . . . . There are brilliant passages in this novel. Vassanji’s evocation of the pervasive anxiety created by terrorist attacks is visceral." – Janette Turner Hospital in The Globe and Mail "The prose of Vassanji’s fifth novel tumbles out so easily it looks effortless. . . . The rich details of rural African life fall into place as they would in an easy conversation . . . [a] well-wrought portrait of a troubled man." – Quill & Quire feature review "This is a taut, marvellous story, told in a dispassionate voice that still manages to convey passion and wonder&#
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Bookclub Guide

1. What is the significance of the three epigraphs to the book -- quoted from T.S. Eliot, the Upanishads, and a Swahili proverb? Think about the epigraphs, but also the sources from which they are taken.

2. "We remained that enigma, the Asians of Africa." How does M.G. Vassanji explore the "in-between" status of Indians in Kenyan society? Does it change over the course of the novel? How do its effects play out in the lives of different members of the Lall family?

3. How does the novel handle the competing claims of the personal and the political? How does it treat characters who favour of political violence and those who are scarred by it? Do you feel that it makes a judgment about violence?

4. Were you surprised that Njoroge gives up Deepa when her mother insists? Why does he accede?

5. How does The In-Between World of Vikram Lall compare with another novel you have read that grapples with political issues (such as one by V. S. Naipaul, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Graham Greene, Leo Tolstoy…)

6. What is the importance of the stories of people besides the narrator in the novel? For example, the railway stories of Vic's grandfather; the history of the couple in Jamieson, etc.

7. How does the subtle repetition of "third wheels" in the novel connect to its deeper themes? Think of Vikram's father excluded from the bond between his mother and Mahesh; Vikram himself left outside the bond between Njoroge and Deepa.

8. What are the roles of fathers, real and symbolic, in The In-Between World of Vikram Lall? Consider Vikram's father, Inspector Verma, Jomo Kenyatta, etc.

9. How is colonialism experienced in The In-Between World of Vikram Lall? And independence?

10. Look back at some of Vikram's descriptions of himself: "There was a frozen core buried deep inside me that I could not dislodge or melt, that held me back"; "I have said that I could not engage morally in my world"; "I don't know what is happening to me"; "I noticed a certain self-detachment in myself."
To what extent is this honest reflection? Defensive self-justification?

11. What did you make of the "frame" of the small Ontario town from which Vikram Lall tells much of what happens in the novel? Did you find Seema Chatterjee and Joseph important characters? Is there the beginning of a comparison between Kenyan society and Canadian society at work here?

12. At various times the narrator pauses in his recollections to explain the historical context of the times he is describing. How did you feel about these passages?

13. "It was mother who still said, We have to think of the samaj, the community, don't we; the world watches us…" How do the claims of community and tradition pull at the principal characters?

14. Choose one of the minor characters in the novel -- Sophia, Mahesh, Khiakia, Inspector Soames, etc. -- and consider what he or she contributes to the book as a whole.

15. Why does Vikram Lall decide to return home?

16. Discuss: servants / Jamieson / songs / the Masai in The In-Between World of Vikram Lall.

17. Did you find Vikram Lall to be a sympathetic character in his own story?

18. How did you feel about the ending of the novel?

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