A Place Within: Rediscovering India

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A Place Within: Rediscovering India

by Mg Vassanji

Doubleday Canada | June 27, 2011 | Hardcover

A Place Within: Rediscovering India is rated 4 out of 5 by 1.
A Globe and Mail Best Book

It would take many lifetimes, it was said to me during my first visit, to see all of India. The desperation must have shown on my face to absorb and digest all I possibly could. This was not something I had articulated or resolved; and yet I recall an anxiety as I travelled the length and breadth of the country, senses raw to every new experience, that even in the distraction of a blink I might miss something profoundly significant.

I was not born in India, nor were my parents; that might explain much in my expectation of that visit. Yet how many people go to the homeland of their grandparents with such a heartload of expectation and momentousness; such a desire to find themselves in everything they see? Is it only India that clings thus, to those who’ve forsaken it; is this why Indians in a foreign land seem always so desperate to seek each other out? What was India to me?

The inimitable M.G. Vassanji turns his eye to India, the homeland of his ancestors, in this powerfully moving tale of family and country. Part travelogue, part history, A Place Within is M.G. Vassanji’s intelligent and beautifully written journey to explore where he belongs.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 464 pages, 8.6 × 5.84 × 1.24 in

Published: June 27, 2011

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385661789

ISBN - 13: 9780385661782

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Journey Through the Indus Valley From acclaimed literary author M.G. Vassanji "A Place Within" is part memoir, part history as Vassanji attempts to rediscover his roots in India by touring the entire country seeking stories and connecting them with the past. The book is very deep, and someone with little to no basic historical background in South Asia will undoubtedly find the content too difficult to follow. Though Vassanji does not explicitly state it, the purpose of his book is to help educate westerners about the diversity of India, the "essential historical quality of India, that of tolerance and flexibility." Vassanji vehemently rejects the social contructs of race and religion that pervade Indian societies, muslims, hindus, sikhs, etc... Vassanji himself was born and raised as a Muslim in East Africa, and his journey to India is almost like a pilgrimage as he attempts to reconnect with his ancestry, part of the Khojas of the Gujarat. And in fact throughout the book, there are stories that showcase the great historical diversity of India. From the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, to Sufi orders during the Mughal reign. Again, not explicity stated but Vassanji's account is revisionist in its post-colonial contextualization of past events. Of the mutiny in 1857, the role of the British Raj, and the Partition of 1948. I especially enjoyed the sections of the book discussion architecture. To me, the descriptions of the Indo-Sacracenic - the mixture of hindu and muslim architechtural styles, is symbolic of much of the fusion of cultures that is India. And yet, Vassanji brings us back down to reality with the terrible stories of communal violence between groups. We often hear about the violence, the dislocation, the terrible loss of life, yet words do not do justice to the extent of suffering of the people. Often spurred on by the demagoguery of nationalistic leaders, Vassanji writes: "Communal violence is set off sometimes in the simplest of ways... some fellowes drive a pig into a Muslim area... some others slaughter a cow and dump the remains in a Hindu neighbourhood." (p. 256). One of the more interesting sub-altern facts I learned was the existence of Jews in India, the Manipuri Jews. Or the Sidis, African Indians who immigrated from Africa many centuries ago. The monolithic image of Hindustan is an inadequate description of the incredible multicultural and diverse character of one of the great civilizations in the world. One cannot bring up the history of India without discussing the role of the caste system or "varnas" that pervades the entire society. I felt that Vassanji did not explore enough the nuances of the caste both from a historical and its contemporary role. It is obviously one of the most complicated aspects of the social fabric of Indian society, yet it remains the most illusive. Vassanji himself admits that open discussion about the caste is still taboo. Overall, I felt Vassanji has done a wonderful job connect the past with the present on this incredible journey to rediscover his roots in the country of his ancestors. While over 400 pages, and filled with names and locations not obvious to the average reader, it may require more than one reading to absorb the incredible detail.
Date published: 2008-12-26

– More About This Product –

A Place Within: Rediscovering India

A Place Within: Rediscovering India

by Mg Vassanji

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 464 pages, 8.6 × 5.84 × 1.24 in

Published: June 27, 2011

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385661789

ISBN - 13: 9780385661782

Read from the Book

IntroductionIt would take many lifetimes, it was said to me during my first visit, to see all of India. It was January 1993. The desperation must have shown on my face to take in all I possibly could. This was not something I had articulated or resolved, and yet I recall an anxiety as I travelled the length and breadth of the country, senses raw to every new experience, that even in the distraction of a blink I might miss something profoundly significant.I was not born in India, nor were my parents; that might explain much in my expectation of that visit. Yet how many people go to the birthplace of their grandparents with such a heartload of expectation and momentousness, such a desire to find themselves in everything they see? Is it only India that clings thus, to those who’ve forsaken it; is this why Indians in a foreign land seem always so desperate to seek each other out?What was India to me? I must put this in the past, because by now I have returned many times and my relationship to the country has evolved. Ever since that first visit, there has been the irrepressible urge to describe my experience of India; yet in spite of copious notes this was not easy, because that experience was deeply subjective, my India was essentially my own creation, what I put of myself in it. I grew up in Dar es Salaam, on the coast of East Africa; the memory and sight of that city, of that continent, evoke in me a deep nostalgia and love of place. India, on the other hand, seemed to do some
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From the Publisher

A Globe and Mail Best Book

It would take many lifetimes, it was said to me during my first visit, to see all of India. The desperation must have shown on my face to absorb and digest all I possibly could. This was not something I had articulated or resolved; and yet I recall an anxiety as I travelled the length and breadth of the country, senses raw to every new experience, that even in the distraction of a blink I might miss something profoundly significant.

I was not born in India, nor were my parents; that might explain much in my expectation of that visit. Yet how many people go to the homeland of their grandparents with such a heartload of expectation and momentousness; such a desire to find themselves in everything they see? Is it only India that clings thus, to those who’ve forsaken it; is this why Indians in a foreign land seem always so desperate to seek each other out? What was India to me?

The inimitable M.G. Vassanji turns his eye to India, the homeland of his ancestors, in this powerfully moving tale of family and country. Part travelogue, part history, A Place Within is M.G. Vassanji’s intelligent and beautifully written journey to explore where he belongs.

From the Jacket

“Strikingly written …beautifully observed, filled with myths, stories, legends, history, journal entries, and family narratives. It is an expertly stitched collage and, as much as it reveals about India, it is a great portrait of Vassanji himself…. Wonderful.”
The Globe and Mail

“Vassanji brings a gifted storyteller’s eye to A Place Within, drawing entertainingly on extensive journals he kept on his Indian excursions…. He captures both the spiritual and the uglier sides of India, all the raw fundamentals of life there, but he always leads with what he sees as India’s ‘essential quality of tolerance and flexibility,’ and the overwhelming pull of ancestry.”
Vancouver Sun

“A striking and rich melange of impression and experience, of the enchantments and disappointments of such an arduous and long-awaited pilgrimage.”
London Free Press

“A lovely, deeply personal book — one entirely worthy of one of Canada’s top-shelf talents.”
Edmonton Journal

About the Author

M.G. Vassanji is the author of the acclaimed novels The Assassin’s Song, shortlisted for the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, The Gunny Sack, which won a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, No New Land, and Amriika. He has twice been awarded the Giller Prize, for his novels The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. Vassanji lives in Toronto.

Editorial Reviews

“Strikingly written …beautifully observed, filled with myths, stories, legends, history, journal entries, and family narratives. It is an expertly stitched collage and, as much as it reveals about India, it is a great portrait of Vassanji himself…. Wonderful.”
The Globe and Mail

“Vassanji brings a gifted storyteller’s eye to A Place Within, drawing entertainingly on extensive journals he kept on his Indian excursions…. He captures both the spiritual and the uglier sides of India, all the raw fundamentals of life there, but he always leads with what he sees as India’s ‘essential quality of tolerance and flexibility,’ and the overwhelming pull of ancestry.”
Vancouver Sun

“A striking and rich melange of impression and experience, of the enchantments and disappointments of such an arduous and long-awaited pilgrimage.”
London Free Press

“A lovely, deeply personal book — one entirely worthy of one of Canada’s top-shelf talents.”
Edmonton Journal