After yesterday’s performance, I’m amazed that I went all day today without mentioning V. S. Naipaul. Let me remedy that immediately …
In Paul Theroux’s book Sir Vidia’s Shadow, Theroux describes meeting Naipaul in Kampala in the 1960s. Naipaul assures him that everything they see in East Africa is passing away: “All of it, back to bush.” He surprises Indian shopkeepers by asking what they plan to do when that happens; it’s clear by their reactions that none of them have considered the possibility.
I thought of this scene recently when I read about M. G. Vassanji’s novel The In-Between World of Vikram Lal, which won Canada’s Giller Prize last year and was published in the U.S. yesterday by Random House. It’s as if Vassanji picks up the scene precisely when Theroux leaves it, though the action takes place in Kenya rather than Uganda. The plot follows a member of the Indian community as Kenya descends into the corruption and chaos of the Kenyatta regime, and then later as he emigrates to Canada.
I’ve seen a few reviews – Washington Times and the Sunday Herald (Scotland) – but I expect we’ll see more. The August 26 review in the TLS (excerpt below) is the most positive: “an ambituous and enthralling work that takes in a broad sweep of Kenyan history.” Just a reminder: Vassanji will also be in Chicago on October 2 for a “books and brunch” session sponsored by the Canadian embassy. Reservations required, admission charge, but you get the book.