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The Magic of Saida Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Sep 25 2012
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Amazon.ca - Best 100 Books of 2012
“The Magic of Saida is the sort of novel that, upon finishing, one wants to immediately read again, to examine, to study just how Vassanji works his narrative magic, and to allow oneself to savour it just that little bit longer. It’s simply baffling to me that such a book – that this book – appears on none of the major short lists this fall. It’s more than an oversight; it’s a crying shame.”
—The Globe & Mail
“A gripping narrative . . . . [Vassanji’s] material is so compelling that he needs little more than to adopt the role of a chronicler . . . . A humble village, in the imagination of this chronicler, becomes a vortex of varying belief systems and ways of life.”
“M.G. Vassanji’s new novel offers an experience as mysterious and haunting as hearing the sudden beat of drums in the middle of the night. . . . The seductive power of Vassanji’s prose mesmerizes. . . . One of Canada’s best novelists . . . . Vassanji’s new novel is darker and far more complex than any of his previous books.”
—Quill & Quire
About the Author
M.G. VASSANJI is the author of six novels, two collections of short stories, and two works of nonfiction. His first novel, The Gunny Sack, was winner of the Commonwealth Prize for Canada and the Caribbean. He has won the Giller Prize for both The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, and the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction for A Place Within: Rediscovering India. His novel The Assassin's Song was shortlisted for both the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. He was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania, and attended university in the United States. He lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife and two sons.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
In the best possible way, I don't quite know what to make of this book. The book is a soft tale of 20th Century Colonialism, something that's rare in almost all other books related to that topic. It felt real - lives lived and impacted but it wasn't the focus of the book - it was there, it was history and it was life, but it wasn't what the book was about. I put a quick summary from the publisher below because it doesn't flow with my review, but to me the book was about regret, longing and memory. It struck a chord because a recurring feeling the protagonist had was that he didn't know where he belonged, and he never truly felt a part of something.
It's about finding your identity through finding the past. The book was brilliantly written, but Vassanji is a brilliant writer, one I have loved for a while. His brilliance lies in the subtleties of what he writes, the characters that he builds and where he takes the story - and above all I've always thought Vassanji is a storyteller. In all honesty I enjoyed this book more than I've enjoyed a book in a while. I broke my trashy Urban Fantasy kick to read this, and I'm incredibly glad I did. Absolutely go grab a copy, you won't regret it. It will leave you thinking and dreaming, and a feeling nostalgic for things you may have never known.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Kunja was born in Kilwa to an African mother and an absent Indian father. He was the childhood friend of a girl named Saida, the granddaughter of Mzee Omari, a renowned poet who doubled as a national historian. The second part of the novel recites the history of Kilwa as it was understood by Omari, beginning with Kunja's ancestor in India who, in the 1870s, answered the call of jihad against the Germans who claimed the right to lead the Africans out of darkness (at gunpoint, if necessary). Omari tells how his own life is shaped by betrayal and forgiveness as Kilwa moves from the harsh rule of Germans to the gentler oppression of the British.
After her grandfather's death, Saida becomes a mganga (spiritual healer or advisor). She gives Kunja a tawiz (locket) in which is sealed a prayer. Although Kunja eventually studies medicine in Uganda and becomes a physician in Canada, he never parts with the tawiz and never forgets his promise to return to Saida. As he continues his search for her -- a difficult task given the reluctance of villagers to discuss her -- Kunja recalls his life after his mother sent him from Kilwa to Dar es Salaam. The final chapters, in which Kunja finally learns about Saida's fate, have the flavor of a supernatural soap opera.
As much as it is Kunja's story, The Magic of Saida is the story of Kilwa. We learn enough about Kilwa's history and culture to understand the place, but not so much as to bog down the story. Celebrated in Milton's Paradise Lost and ruled by Persian sultans before becoming an important port in slave traffic, M. G. Vassanji describes the modern Kilwa, its culture and its people, in terms that are alternately loving and stark. It is a place possessed by djinns, haunted by the spirits of the dead who were hung from mango trees. Vassanji contrasts the old and the new Kilwa, questions whether the changes it has experienced are entirely for the better. What has become of tribal pride, Kigoma asks, now that Tanzania depends so much on foreign generosity? Even Kunja, who can well afford to be generous, doubts the value of charity as a response to "the outstretched hand of Africa." The tension between change and tradition and the struggle for African independence are the novel's strongest themes.
Unlike the chapters that take place in Kilwa, those that are set in other locations are less compelling. The frequent flashbacks to Kunja's life after leaving Kilwa interrupt the narrative flow while doing little to advance the reader's understanding of Kunja. His ill-treatment as a half-caste Indian is well illustrated in a couple of powerful scenes, but too many chapters seem determined to relate the history of Tanzania and Uganda. Kunja's time in Canada and a visit to India are covered in a whirlwind of words. The uneven pace and unnecessary scenes mar an otherwise enjoyable novel. The Magic of Saida is nonetheless worth reading for the picture it paints of Kilwa and for its intriguing story of a man struggling to connect his present to his past.
• What started out as story with a theme of looking for a lost love morphs into a fully complex storyline that examines identity, abandonment, love, hope, and dislocation wrapped up with magic realism elements and infused with history of the past and present.
• Once again I was drawn into the skillful storytelling of the author as he looks at East Africa through a lens that explores history, politics, religion, ethnicity and societies yet making it personal and intimate.
• As the storyline fluidity moves between the past and the present in Kamal’s life and the past and present of the history of the region, it is Kamal’s background of having an African mother and Indian father that allows for the exploration of the cultures from an inside view. The reader gets to see sectarian conflicts get ignited by forces that have little to do with many who bear the burden of these conflicts and have even less power to resist.
• As Kamal is given “opportunities” that he is “pushed” to accept, often the price he pays is abandonment by those he loves.
• At times some of the historical parts dragged the story down but they are really so necessary to this story and to our understanding of migration and relocation of this area.
• I learned much about the German colonization of East Africa, the role of WWI on East Africa, and the changeover from the German rule to the British rule
• While all of my questions did not get answered by the end of the book relating to some of the outstanding questions/concerns that Kamal has questioned throughout his life – I did see how the past (even the past we are not aware of) so influences the present. As I look around the world and wonder about conflicts that seem to just sprung up I am learning that that the past is the present.
• This is my second book by the author and once again my knowledge has been enriched in an enjoyable reading experience.
• I highly recommend this book for readers of historical fiction.
• One of my favorite quotes from this book is – “Still, he was different. His features announced it plainly, spoke of provenance, posed questions. There were reminders, the small and large ones, accidental or aimed to wound. He had his memories, his private world to turn to at night. No one could interfere with his memories, they were his solace, his hope for some future resolution in his life. They chained him to his past.”
• Second favorite quote – “But, beware of the mouse who caresses you as he knaws.”