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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 14, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140004216X
  • ASIN: B000OV16TY
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,793,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In this novel set among Kenya's Indian diaspora, two ill-fated loves—Vikram Lall's for a young English girl, his sister's for a young African man—symbolize their family's tenuous social position as neither privileged oppressor nor righteous oppressed. Vikram, now in exile in Canada, recounts Kenya's painful process of decolonization and his own role laundering money for government officials, an activity that he justifies as the survival tactic of one considered "inherently disloyal" because of his race. Vikram's chilly amorality pervades this tautly written novel somewhat to its detriment. Although the narrative builds to the thawing of Vikram's frozen conscience, his professions of remorse are pro forma, and his return to Kenya in search of redemption feels forced. Still, the book admirably captures the tenor of the postcolonial period: the predicament of the Asian minority, the corruption that marred Kenya's fledgling independence, and the individual tragedies that were the cost of revolution.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 22 customer reviews
Vassanji's story has brilliant characterization, a fascinating plot and great narrative and dialogue.
Siti Jevens
It centers on an enduring friendship between Vic and Njoroge, and the innocent love between Deepa and Njoroge in the face of a disapproving family and society.
Lin E.
In this story Vassanji does an amazing job at creating a dynamic character who is both flawed and heroic, hence the well-suited name.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on September 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books I've read this year. Memorable characters, a politically and emotionally-charged setting, and clean writing make Vikram Lall's in-between world a fascinating place to be.

When the novel opens, Vic Lall is in Canada, having fled his home in Kenya after being named the most corrupt man in the country. He is the grandson of a man who came from India to build the Kenyan railway, the son of a store owner in a small Kenyan town. He thinks back on the fun he had with his younger sister, Deepa, neighbor Njoroge, and Bill and Annie, two English children. It is the time of the Mau Mau rebellion when white families were being killed by rebels. It comes too close to their town, and the Lalls make a difficult move Nairobi.

By this time you are wondering how mild fellow like Vikram could possibly have it in him to be named the most corrupt man in an African nation. The story moves ahead to 1965 when former Mau Mau sympathizer Jomo Kenyata is now president of an independent Kenya. Njoroge is moving up in the government and Vic follows. Now the delicate dance of race and politics comes into play as Njoroge and Deepa begin to play out their childhood fascination with each other, and Vic learns that some things never change.

M.G. Vassanji won Canada's prestigious Giller Prize for this novel, and well he should have, even though he beat out Ann-Marie MacDonald whose "The Way the Crow Flies" was probably my favorite book last year. In "The In-Between World of Vikram Lall" he spins a rich, subtle, carefully layered tale which is also very hard to put down.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By algo41 on August 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"The In-Between World of Vikram Lall" is an excellent novel of personal growth, while also being a fine social history (Indians in Kenya) and remarkable political history (Kenya). As political history it is a chilling account of how corruption in an African country destroys the promise of independence. It brings the face of corruption home to the reader as only fiction can. The protagonist, Vikram Lall, is a venal man who transcends time and place - one can picture him as an assistant at Enron. While focusing on Lall, the novel is rich in characters and relationships, and all the characters are nuanced and credible, including Kenyatta, the real world leader of Kenyan independence. In fact, it is in the novel's portrayal of Kenyatta, and Lall's fictional boss (at least I couldn't find him on the internet) that it is most chilling, though these people are not pathological murderers and sadists like Idi Amin of Uganda. The prose is not special, just very good, as Vassanji is equally capable with character, dialogue, natural setting. The plot is always interesting, and becomes something of a page turner at the end. The story of Lall's childhood, adolescence and young adulthood is as interesting as the rest. I feel Vassanji made an error in introducing gun running, it just was not necessary, but that is a small thing and my own opinion. This book is everything that "The Kite Runner" is not, despite the latter's much greater popularity
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on October 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Growing up in Nakuru, Kenya, in the 1950s, Vikram Lall and his sister Deepa, the children of Indian merchants, become friends with British children Bill Bruce and his sister Annie, and with Njoroge, a Kikuyu who lives with his grandfather, the family's gardener. While Vic is secretly in love with Annie, Njoroge is secretly in love with Deepa, both childhood relationships ignoring the cultural and color barriers of the times. The Mau Mau, a Kikuyu group dedicated to ridding the country of the British, are on the march, attacking and killing British men, women, and children. To Lall and his friends, who live in an area where violence has not yet struck, however, they are almost mythic creatures, until the violence strikes close to home, and Vic's life and perceptions are altered forever.

Alternating points of view between the present, when Vikram Lall is in his fifties and living outside Toronto, Canada, where he is "numbered one of Africa's most corrupt men," and the early 1950s, when he lived in a diverse Kenyan community, Vassanji shows how the Lalls are doubly alienated, first from their family in India, whose village, thanks to the British Partition of India, is now part of Pakistan, and from the majority population of Kenya. His depiction of the Lall family, the Indian merchant community, and the African community's hostility towards British rule sets the scene for the action during the next forty years.

When Vic, as a young man living in the ultimately independent Kenya, works in the Ministry of Transport and moves up the political ladder, he is powerless to resist orders from his superiors, even though his job is to launder cash coming in as bribes.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jay Deshpande on August 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
This novel is presented in the first-person point of view, the narrator being Vikram Lall, an Indian born and raised in Kenya. We are made to understand that Vikram turns out to be a horrendously corrupt individual who bankrupts his nation. However, he begins by recounting his childhood, as a young boy in Nakuru, Kenya. Then we are carried into his young adulthood, as he begins to work for the newly independent government, entering the dark realm of underhanded politics. Throughout the novel, the author brings us back to Vikram's present location (Canada) where he is remembering his past.

My only complaint about this novel is in Vikram's character. A dark tragedy alters his emotions, rendering him to be a passionless man. But that lack of vigor makes him an absolute bore. There were a few scenes where I thought Vikram would suddenly break out of his shell, but he remains restrained throughout, allowing injustices to occur and his desires to collapse. I enjoyed the other characters though, especially Deepa and Njoroge, possibly the most passionate individuals in the novel.

I greatly appreciated the fearlessness in exhibiting race relations between Indians and everyone else in Kenya. The interplay appeared geniune, showing the social hierarchy amongst the races (the British, Indians, then blacks at the bottom). This hierarchy gets flipped after Kenya's independence, leaving the Indians in the middle again. But since the majority of Indians did not support the blacks during the freedom struggle, they become the scapegoats for the newly freed country's problems, leading to mass deportations, etc. Most of the race relations are viewed from Vikram's serene point of view.

I also appreciated the detailed characters, such as Mahesh Uncle who backs the Mau Mau in their fight against the British, and his relationship with Vikram.

Great book overall, excellent for those who want a greater understanding of the aftermath of colonialism.
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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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