May 18, 2010

The Book of Secrets - M. G. Vassanji

I love a book that makes me think.

This is a book that I have been meaning to read for years, and I finally got around to it now. It won the first Giller Prize ever awarded in 1984, and as regular readers of my rambling posts know, I am generally a big fan of the Giller winners.

Plus it is mainly set in Tanzania, a country that I know fairly well.

What more could I ask for in a book?

The style of this book is very different, but I didn't realise this until I had almost finished it. It is a mish-mash of journal entries, first-person narrative, third-person narrative, letters, memos, book excerpts, footnotes. But they are all woven together so seamlessly that as I said, I didn't even think about the format until close to the end.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have found myself reading more memoirs in recent years, and I especially enjoy the ones that flow like a novel. I think that I can say that this is a novel that almost reads like a memoir. It is hard to believe that the events in this book didn't take place in real life!

The place came alive for me. I have spent a bit of time in Dar es Salaam, and it was fun to come across descriptions of places that I know (though in an era that I don't). I am interested to know what other people who have read this book but who haven't been to East Africa think of the descriptions - it is hard to read a book as an impartial observer!

It is a multi-threaded story where the threads don't come together until the very end. The story of an English colonist in East Africa; the story of an Indian school teacher arriving in Tanganyika (now Tanzania); the story of a family tragedy. I want to go back to the beginning now and re-read it with the knowledge of how all of the parts fit together.

So a great read through-and-through!


Buried In Print said...

I read this earlier this year and really enjoyed it as well; I thought the descriptions were vibrant and evocative, and I loved the way that the various threads were interwoven. His short story collection, When She Was Queen was very impressive too, one of those in which each tale is of consistently high quality.

Wanda said...

My daughter owns this one, think I'll have to borrow it now.

Kate said...

Buried in Print - I'm glad that you enjoyed it as well! I did read a collection of his short stories ages ago, but don't remember them very well - I should seek some out again.

Wanda - definitely!