September 14, 2010

The Gunny Sack - M. G. Vassanji

I first discovered M. G. Vassanji as an author earlier this year when I read and loved The Book of Secrets. So recently I went out to the local bookstore and picked up a couple of his other books, and have been reading The Gunny Sack over the past few weeks.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book as much as The Book of Secrets. The plot was much more simple and straightforward, and at times I couldn't decide if he didn't have a point to make and so was just telling a story; or if he had an important point to make but didn't quite know how to make it.

It is basically a fictional memoir, if such a genre exists. The narrator, Salim, is of (mainly) Indian origin, born and raised in East Africa, who ends up in
North America - a strikingly similar history to that of the author. Like any traditional memoirist, he begins his story by telling of his ancestors (the first half of the book), and then continues with the story of his life.

There were some aspects that I liked - the complex family structure with the story spanning generations; the fluid writing style; and of course I always love being transported in a book back to my "other home" of Tanzania. And the cover. If you compare the cover of this book with this picture that a friend of mine recently took on Zanzibar (part of Tanzania), you know that the cover picture was taken on the East African coast.

But then there were aspects that I didn't like. As I mentioned above, the plot is very linear and lacking the complexity of The Book of Secrets; and I also found that the gunny sack of the title, as well as the sack's owner Ji Bai, played only a minor role in the book despite being built up in significance in the opening chapter.

I am going to be generous though. The Gunny Sack was M. G. Vassanji's first novel, published in 1989. The Book of Secrets came 2 novels later in 1994, and is definitely a stronger book while retaining the writing style. I also have a copy of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall which was published in 2003 so I am going to hope that he continued to develop as a writer, and that this book will be the best of all!

The Gunny Sack counts as a selection towards The Canadian Book Challenge over at The Book Mine Set.

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