Young Vikram Lall's in-betweenness as an Indian in Kenya is brought home to him when he and his sister Deepa become close friends with an African boy, Njoroge, and two English children, Bill and Annie. It is 1953, and while the Lall family celebrates Queen Elizabeth's coronation, Mau Mau rebels are slaughtering white families to protest against British colonial rule, aided by "faithful" African servants and even Indian sympathizers like Vikram's beloved Manesh Uncle. In that tempestuous "year of our loves and friendships," eight-year-old Vikram is initiated into a confusing world of contradictory loyalties and agonizing losses. The shifting moral and political sands of that in-between world will define everything Vikram comes to experience, eventually (as he says on the first page) causing him to be "numbered one of Africa's most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning."
Despite this unappealing description of himself, the unheroic hero of M.G. Vassanji's new novel has an engaging voice and an absolutely riveting story to tell. Hiding from his enemies in an obscure Ontario village, he traces the entangled narrative lines that led him to this dangerous and compromised state, quixotically hoping at the end to blaze a new trail towards "truth and reconciliation" in Kenya. In the tradition of the finest political novels, Vassanji filters the hopes and disappointments of the emerging nation through the familiar lenses of family, friendship, passion, despair, and grief. In his moving accounts of Bill and Annie's lost innocence, Njoroge's and Deepa's secretive romance, and Vikram's entrapment in ethical quicksand, Vassanji portrays a country torn apart by ethnic differences and corruption. Carefully poised between humane tenderness and jaded cynicism, between the imperative to name names and the impulse to forgive, Vikram Lall's multigenerational narrative is at once hauntingly sad and generously humane. Vassanji's return to the East African setting of his Giller Prize-winning Book of Secrets is an artistically triumphant one. The In-between World of Vikram Lall ranks with his very best work. --John C. Ball
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From Publishers Weekly
As an Indian child growing up in 1950s Kenya, Vikram Lall is at the center of two warring worlds—one of childhood innocence, the other "a colonial world of repressive, undignified subjecthood" in which the innocent often meet with the cruelest of fates. He passes his early days in Nakuru playing with his sister, Deepa, their neighborhood friend Njoroge, and English expatriates Annie and Bill Bruce. Though Vic is third-generation African, he understands that Njo is somehow more Kenyan than he or his family will ever be. Police regularly raid Nakuru looking for Mau Mau rebels, who are terrorists in the eyes of Europeans, but freedom fighters to native Kenyans; one day tragedy strikes the Lall family's English friends. Haunted by a grisly description of the crime scene, the Lalls eventually pick up and move to Nairobi. Fast-forward to 1965, when Kenya has achieved independence and Mau Mau sympathizer Jomo Kenyatta is now the president of the nation. Njo, who worshipped Jomo from an early age, is a rising star in the new government. He tracks down the Lalls in Nairobi and begins an innocent courtship of Deepa, much to her parents' chagrin. Meanwhile, Vic continues to allow his memory of young Annie to define his life and, as a result, makes some morally ambiguous judgments when he lands a position in the new government. Telling his story from Canada, where he fled after getting top billing on Kenya's "List of Shame" as one of the most financially corrupt men in his country, Vic is a voice for all those who wonder about the price of the struggle for freedom. Vassanji, who was the 2003 winner of Canada's Giller Prize, explores a conflict of epic proportions from the perspective of a man trapped in "the perilous in-between," writing with a deftness and evenhandedness that distinguish him as a diligent student of political and historical complexities and a riveting storyteller.
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