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Amriika Paperback – November 11, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The immigrant from Dar Es Salaam who narrates many parts of this novel by Vassanji (The Book of Secrets) tells a compelling story of rebellion and its aftereffects, but a pervasive stylistic blandness lessens its impact. Ramji comes to America in 1968 to study at a technological institute in Cambridge, Mass. His extensive soul-searching during college involves participation in student demonstrations and residency at the ashram of a local guru. The novel then jumps 25 years ahead. Many of Ramji's revolutionary classmates have disappeared into comfortable middle-class lives, and Ramji himself is trapped in an unhappy marriage. After a divorce, he moves to Santa Monica, where he works for a political newspaper and lives with the beautiful student who wrecked his marriage. When he offers shelter to a young man who turns out to be a suspect in a couple of politically motivated bombings, he finds his home life dismantled by an unfortunate intersection of past and present. The story jumps intermittently from third-person to first-person narrative, a quirk sometimes revelatory, but other times merely jarring and gratuitous. Vassanji's strengths lie in his shrewd but economical characterizations, and also in his grappling with the explosive passions at play in his tale. His matter-of-fact storytelling style, however, applied to the drab lives Ramji's fellow immigrants lead after adopting Western traditions, eventually desiccates the novel, all the pathos leaking out of a hole somewhere near the book's center. It ends with a bittersweet and shocking episode, easily the most affecting passage in the book. Sadly, though, this ending would have been even more moving if Vassanji had focused on the novel's potential for provocation. Agent, Jan Whitford.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Amriika may be viewed as a classic immigrant story…[which] becomes, among other things, a kind of snapshot of the zeitgeist of the past three decades, a primer on dissident politics, a suspenseful mystery and a love story.”
–Montreal Gazette

“A sweeping tale.…The cast of characters is complex, the backdrop rich.…”
National Post

“Combines all of the lyricism of Rushdie with the astute observations of Updike.…”
–Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“Compelling and nuanced, rich in period detail and imaginative set-pieces.…”
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal

“A page-turner.…”
Vancouver Sun

See all Editorial Reviews

Best Books of the Month
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Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; 1St Edition edition (November 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 077108725X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771087257
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,822,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

M G Vassanji ( was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. Before going to Canada in 1978, he attended MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, where he specialized in theoretical nuclear physics. From 1978-1980 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Atomic Energy of Canada, and from 1980 to 1989 he was a research associate at the University of Toronto. During this period he developed a keen interest in medieval Indian literature and history, co-founded and edited a literary magazine (The Toronto South Asian Review, later renamed The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad), and began writing stories and a novel. In 1989, with the publication of his first novel, The Gunny Sack, he was invited to spend a season at the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa. That year ended his active career in nuclear physics. His contributions there he considers modest, in algebraic models and high spin states. The fact that he was never tenured he considers a blessing for it freed him to pursue his literary career. In 1996, Vassanji was made a fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla, where he visited again in 2010 as visiting professor.
If pressed, Vassanji considers himself African Asian Canadian; attempts to pigeonhole him along communal or other lines, however, he considers narrow-minded and malicious.

His work has appeared in various countries and several languages. He is winner of the Giller Prize (1994, 2003) for best novel in Canada; the Governor General's Prize (2009) for best work of nonfiction; the Harbourfront Festival Prize; the Commonwealth First Book Prize (Africa, 1990); and the Bressani Prize. The Assassin's Song was also shortlisted for India's Crossword Prize. He is a member of the Order of Canada.
He lives in Toronto, and visits East Africa and India often.

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
The main character in this book, Ramji, finds himself in exactly the same situation in 1995 in Los Angeles as he had been in 1970 in Boston: harbouring a suspected bomber. In one case it had been an American middle-class radical woman, in the second case a young man, who had at one time been an anti-Iranian activist supported by the American government, and has now, as an outraged Muslim, bombed a bookstore in the Midwest.
After the shocking events at the World Trade Center, this book seems to have an eery timeliness to it. While not exactly predicting terrorism in the magnitude in which it recently occurred, this book does take a hard look at why America is often both loved and hated; more importantly, it shows how slippery the slope can be, in today's world, between political commitment and sympathy for the causes behind terrorism, and the barbaric act of terrorism itself. On the way it shows the conflicts within the world of Islam as well.
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By Alfred J. Kwak on September 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
This sprawling, ambitious novel is about the challenges immigrants with a deeply traditional background face in the US. It is about tall Ramji, born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania whose grandma raised him. He is part of the Shamsi community who follow an old Indian syncretistic mix of Hinduism and Islam. Feeling insecure in India, many Shamsis followed an ancient prophecy and began moving West, first to East Africa in the late 19th century.
In the late 1960s, Ramji excels in school and wins a scholarships to MIT at a time of massive students protests against the Vietnam war and the military-industrial complex. The plethora of good causes sometimes baffles him, but he becomes a fringe activist too.
Still in Dar, Ramji was shocked by Robert Kennedy’s murder and scared of going to the US. But fellow Shamsi and newspaper editor Darcy and his grandma both firmly pointed their index fingers westward. What follows is an account of 27 more years of Ramji’s life and his Shamsi community’s movement westwards. Ramji ‘s early, marginal involvement with student radicals will come back to haunt him decades in LA, where he moved after years in Chicago.
As a book character Ramji comes across as bereft of his early brilliance. No word about what he studied or why he flunked out. He is skeptical and ambivalent about religion and his own community’s faith, his radical student friends’ beliefs and later, the contents of the magazines and books he markets or distributes, radical or ‘alternative’. He does not fully embrace pure reason either. He is loyal to close friends, soft mannered, simply not born to die and leaving a large footprint behind.
The novel has strong and weak parts. A stern editor would have slashed a lot of superfluous text. In all, this is an intelligent and emphatic novel with a sad ending. But also a construction of a phantom community without roots in fact or history.
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