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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G.…
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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (original 2002; edition 2005)

by M.G. Vassanji

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5811826,787 (3.9)73
Sweeping in scope, both historically and geographically, Vassanji weaves a rich tapestry of vivid characters (real and imagined) in a Kenya poised between colonialism and independence.Vikram Lall, like his adopted country, inhabits an 'in-between world': between the pull of his ancestral home in India and the Kenya he loves passionately; between his tragic past in Africa and an unclear future in Canada; between escape from political terror and a seemingly inevitable return home . . . a return that may cost him dearly.A master storyteller, Vassanji intertwines the political and the personal - the rise of the Mau Mau in the last days of colonialism looms large over a plot centring on two love stories and a deep friendship. The result is a sumptuous novel that brilliantly explores the tyranny of history and memory, and questions the individual's role and responsibility in lawless times.… (more)
Member:gregvogl
Title:The In-Between World of Vikram Lall
Authors:M.G. Vassanji
Info:Vintage (2005), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:africa, Asia, Kenya, India

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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by M. G. Vassanji (2002)

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English (17)  Spanish (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by M. G. Vassanji is the story of an Asian man who sees himself as an in-between, being neither white nor black, in colonial and post-colonial Kenya. Although he doesn’t feel it, he is a 3rd generation African. His grandfather came to Africa from India to work the railroad and stayed, putting down roots in the large Asian community. As the book opens, Vikram is living in exile in Canada and as his story unfolds we are taken back to Kenya and the Mau Mau insurgency of 1952 – 1960.

Again he finds himself in the middle of his two friends, Bill the white son of a British landowner and Njoroge, the black grandson of the Kikuyu gardener. These boys, along with Vikram’s sister, Deepa and Bill’s sister, Ann play together and become close friends, although the political situation is destined to tear them apart. Vikram’s story covers the changing Kenya as it emerges from Colonial rule, to the early hopeful days of independence to the dark dangers and corruption that evolved in later decades.

Vikram who identifies himself as “one of Africa’s most corrupt men”, becomes adept at survival, both political and personal, again as a middle man, he becomes a fixer, taking bribes and moving the money for the new black, corrupt ruling class. Eventually he is used as a scrapegoat in an international scandal and forced to leave Kenya.

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall was a fascinating multi-layered story. Although a powerful tale, I felt the story bogged down at times in the massive amount of detail provided. These details, although accurate and well researched cause the book to be overlong and slow. But ultimately this is a well written, deeply personal story from an author who grew up in Kenya and is well able to immerse the reader into the complexities of African history. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jan 13, 2018 |
One of the best novels on Kenyan independence and written from an Indian perspective. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
Vikram Lall narrates the story of his life. His Indian family migrated to Kenya to build a British railroad. As Asians, they are never fully welcomed into African society. Vikram's childhood is colored by the violent Mau Mau rebellion. When Kenya finally gains independence and Vikram grows up, he works for the government and guilelessly becomes involved in the corruption of the government, thanks largely to his outsider status as an Asian with connections to the Asian community in Africa.

The book is more or less structured like a memoir. On one hand, this makes the story feel very real - it is structured like a human life, not like a normal plot with conflict and resolution. On the other hand, this also makes the pacing uneven, and leaves some of the threads of the early portions of the book unresolved. The first half or so of the book primarily focuses on Vikram's childhood and his relationships with his family and friends. The latter part of the book details his political career, although his adult life is portrayed in much less detail than his childhood.

One of the major themes of the book is race: as an Asian, Vikram is never entirely welcomed into Kenyan society. His Asian family is unwilling to accept his sister's romance with their African childhood friend. Vikram can be corrupt largely because he straddles the Asian community and African political structure, and can claim ignorance of the functioning of both.

Another theme is the banality of evil, although this is skimmed over more than I wish it had been. Throughout the book, Vikram drops hints that he is considered to be a horrible person because of his role in some corruption, but when we finally reach that part of his story, the details are skimmed over and the corruption really doesn't seem like that big of a deal - certainly not bad enough for there to be a price on his head. I was expecting involvement in genocide or something, but it turned out to be rather anticlimactic.

All in all, it is an interesting and engaging book, with characters who felt very real. It felt like the author ran out of steam towards the end and didn't devote as much attention to the events at the end. There are important themes of race relations and the importance of family and friends. ( )
  Gwendydd | Dec 27, 2015 |
"The terror that permeated our world like a mysterious ether,", 9 August 2015

This review is from: In Between World of Vikram Lall (Paperback)
An extremely readable work (though I found it dragged a little towards the end, as illegal dealings and fictional meetings with the President occupy the storyline). Narrated by the eponymous 'hero', who tells us at the outset of his being numbered "one of Africa's most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning."
Two strands run alongside - primarily his earlier life in Kenya, but also his experiences now in Canada.
Vikram Lall starts his account by recalling his childhood in Nairobi, where he and his sister occupy a middle position in society, not quite able to mix with the 'European' elite, yet far above that of the black Kenyans. His playmates include kids of both groups - the white Bruce siblings and Kenyan lad Njoroge, who dreams of Jomo Kenyatta's leading his people to freedom. For this is the terrifying era of the Mau-Mau...

Later on, with Kenyan independence, Lall still finds himself in an in-between world; society has been turned on its head, with the Black population now in charge.
A family saga, an account of how corruption occurs, a story of terrible sadness, set in a country I knew little about.
(Incidentally, good though it is, I must take issue with the review by Janette Turner Hospital, reproduced on inside cover, which describes the book as "belonging in a category with Tolstoy's 'War and Peace'. Something of an exaggeration!) ( )
  starbox | Aug 9, 2015 |
Read during Winter 2004/2005

An intriguing story of post-colonial Kenya. Vikram Lall is from an Indian family, his grandfather came to Kenya, along with thousands of Indian labourers, to build the railroads for the Brittish. The Asians of Kenya are a forgotten population, always hovering bewteen the European colonists and the native Africans. Vikram hovers in this way for all his life. As a child, he befriends both English and African children but he begins to learn that he is not part of either world. His African friend, Njorgoe, falls for his sister, Deepa, both as a child and an adult but Vikram's childhood love for Annie dies with her death and the death of her family by the Mau Mau. Ever after, Vikram is merely the cold observer, as he tells the story from his retreat in Toronto. He meets Njo again in Nairobi and his adult life is set in motion by small acts. He is always the bystander, never taking the actions but being pulled along. I was completely drawn into his grey world of bribery and paybacks but it is the personal relationships that end up driving the whole story. The prejudice and petty personal and interfamily strifes that no one seems to escape from. Only at the end, when he seems to want to confess and be forgiven, did there seem to be a moral compass. Fascinating read.
  amyem58 | Jul 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
In The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, [Vassanji] has written a powerful and compelling novel that explores many issues: public versus private lives; taking responsibility for one's decisions versus refusing to make decisions or take stands; and deciding who belongs in one's family and one's country
added by GYKM | editEdmonton Journal, Karen Virag
 
It is part of Vassanji's great talent to demonstrate that the minor changes—unexpected love, sex, accusations—in the life of a very modest man are, in fact, transformations of history.
added by GYKM | editThe Globe and Mail
 
The In-Between Life of Vikram Lall belongs in that commendable category between merely good and truly great.
 
Vassanji ... offers up certain truths, thought-provoking, disturbing, but ultimately, and in a small way, hopeful.
added by GYKM | editSaturday Night
 
[Vassanji] captures both the minute ripples of individual human motivations and the broad sweep of the grim machine we call history.
added by GYKM | editOttawa Citizen
 
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"Who is the third who always walks beside you?" - TS ELIOT , The Waste Land
"Neti, neti" (Not this, not that) - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
"Po pote niendapo anifauta" (Wherever I go he follows me) - Swahili riddle; answer; shadow
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For my father - always vivid whose absence inspired
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Njoroge who was also called William loved my sister Deepa; I was infatuated with another whose name I cannot utter yet, whose brother was another William; we called him Bill.
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