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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.”
“A sweeping tale.…The cast of characters is complex, the backdrop rich.…”
“Combines all of the lyricism of Rushdie with the astute observations of Updike.…”
“Compelling and nuanced, rich in period detail and imaginative set-pieces.…”
–New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal