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The Magic of Saida

3.43  ·  Rating Details ·  391 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
The Magic of Saida tells the haunting story of Kamal, a successful Canadian doctor who, in middle age and after decades in North America, decides to return to his homeland of East Africa to find his childhood sweetheart, Saida. Kamal's journey is motivated by a combination of guilt, hope, and the desire to unravel the mysteries of his childhood--mysteries compounded by the ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 25th 2012 by Doubleday Canada (first published January 1st 2012)
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Feb 23, 2013 Zen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
There's really no way to read a Vassanji book quickly. His stories are so rich with historical and cultural details that if you don't take stock of the timelines and explorations of cause-and-effect throughout, you miss out on a lot. I admittedly had a difficult time with the first book of his I read, but something compelled me to try another, and now I relish the feeling of being drawn into one of his generational epics. The Magic of Saida was no exception.

Kamal Punja has been called chotara, g
Steven Langdon
Dec 17, 2012 Steven Langdon rated it really liked it
Shelves: super
M.G. Vassanji is, in my view, one of Canada's most powerful and evocative authors. Two of his novels have won Giller Prizes, given annually to the country's best English fiction work. "The In-Between World of Vikram Lall" is especially compelling in capturing the detailed texture of post-1945 Kenya, the relationships amongst different races and the complexity of Africa-Canada migration -- while "The Assassin's Song" is equally dramatic in conveying the lives of Indians caught between the histori ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Beverly rated it really liked it
This was a 3.5 read for me.

• The Magic of Saida is the story of Kamal Punja, a successful doctor from Edmonton, Canada, returning to his birthplace a small coastal town called Kilwa, part of what is now known as Tanzania to search for his childhood sweetheart, Saida.
• 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 histor
Katie Mercer
Sep 11, 2012 Katie Mercer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I received this book as an ARC, sent to me by the publisher as a Goodreads First Reads.

This will be a bit of an odd review (but really, most of mine have been recently). I think what's holding me back is I always want to write a review that lets people know what I felt about the book, and if I think they would enjoy it. I keep coming up empty, because all I can think is that this book was just lovely. In the best possible way, I don't quite know what to make of this book. The book is a soft tale
Mar 18, 2013 Ksab rated it it was amazing
A magical novel of a quest for homecoming to East Africa. Vassanji seamlessly weaves themes of family,immigration,religion, politics, history,slavery,colonization,love,spirituality,and identity over the life cycle. Vassanji is a master, mystical storyteller whose prose seems to be talking directly to you-the reader. A must read!!
Sep 11, 2016 Gina rated it really liked it
An interesting read; I enjoyed the history, culture and story. I found that many of the terms and words that seemed foreign to me were not in the dictionary. I did find some with a google search but I didn't stop to do that often as I was reading the paper edition. Footnotes would have been very helpful.
Jan 18, 2013 Ming rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can an immigrant return "home?" Can you find a past or lost love? Duel questions that are difficult to answer but occur often in the books I choose. The first question provides a tension and a clearer/skewed eye to engage a reader. Here Vassanji adds an additional layer: a biracial Asian Indian-African immigrant to Canada returns to his native Tanzania.

And the book reveals his that portrays and critiques the colonial and post-colonial climates along with depicting cultural adaptation
Dec 30, 2013 Spoiledyorkie rated it it was amazing
At first, as the story weaves in and out through the lives and history of the characters and town involved, I feel it took me a while to make my way through. However, as I came the end, I just couldn't close the book to put it down and I found myself immediately returning to the beginning of the book to re-read those early parts, to recapture the significance and the feeling of what I had just enjoyed.
Sep 11, 2014 Lita rated it it was amazing
Feb 17, 2013 Andree rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013, book-club
Objectively I understand the value of this book. Objectively it's interesting. It's very obviously about place and race and ancestry and where a person is from/where their home is. It made me think about several things I haven't before. For example, the people who were half-Asian, half-African, living in Africa over the 20th centruy. It's also a book about family and and belief systems and values survival and betrayal.

Honestly, I think it's just a book about too many things. It's an interesting
Jeff Scott
Jun 27, 2013 Jeff Scott rated it liked it
We are always haunted by our own pasts. In M.G. Vassanji book, The Magic of Saida, Kamal is haunted by a woman and a culture. They call him back to face what he has long tried to ignore. Inside this return, we see the cultural complexity of someone of Indian-African descent navigate three different worlds, African, Indian, and Canadian. Furthermore, we see the political history of East Africa from German imperialists to Ida Amin. A very ambitious novel that might suffer from having too many them ...more
Erika Schmid
Well, this was an agonizingly long journey that left me feeling unfulfilled and rather angry. The story continuously digresses in and out between three different timelines in Kamal's singular life. This led for some initial confusion before a rhythm began to emerge. And though I often adore stories that are not necessarily happy in nature, this one obliterated hope entirely. Without a doubt, this story is laced in history, which I absolutely loved. The disparity that is shown between Africans an ...more
Oct 11, 2012 Sharon rated it liked it
M.G.Vassanji is surely the consummate storyteller as this book will attest. The story takes you from Kamal Punja's homeland in East Africa to Canada where he is a doctor in Edmonton. How this happened and what the unintended consequences were is the journey we are taken on. Punja's lifestory is a contemplation of how events in life can change your future so that your heart's desire must take second place. How would your life be different if you had been able to follow your heart? As such, the no ...more
Robert Sheppard

Robert Sheppard‘s insight:

World Literture Forum recommends you Check Out “The Magic of Saida: by M.G. Vassanji tracing the conundrums of cultural and racial hybridity of this African-Indian-Canadian-Ismaili Muslim writer chronicaling the interactions of the Indian community in East Africa, from the Arab slave trade to the Imperial German colony of Tanzania, to independence,
Feb 24, 2015 Margaret rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful story which loops back and forth from present-day Tanzania to Tanzania right after independence, to the Maji Maji rebellion and colonialism, all through the story of Kamal, and African/Indian Swahili speaking doctor who was born in Kilwa and emigrated to Canada. He returns to Kilwa looking for his childhood friend, Saida. As the book loops back and forth, through Kamal's growing up and going through identity issues between the African community and the Indian community, movin ...more
Barbara Sibbald
Jan 16, 2013 Barbara Sibbald rated it liked it
Vassanji is a beautiful writer and in this novel, he powerfully evokes a time and place. Some critics have said this is borderline magic realism. In reality, it delves into African magic and, yes, there is a suspension of disbelief required, but it's different than MR. Not less, just different and I attribute that to it's place of origin: Africa. Perhaps a new term is needed: African magic realism? That's lame, but perhaps explains it in part.
The story is compelling as it slowly unravels to rev
Lara Kleinschroth
Jul 24, 2012 Lara Kleinschroth rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads, arc
This is an ARC, sent to me by the publisher. Finished it last week and am still processing. Beautiful interweaving of the story of Kamal Punja searching for his identity, and that of his country of birth, Tanzania. Kamal is a successful Canadian doctor who travels back to Kilwa in Tanzania to search for his childhood sweetheart, Saida. His search takes him deep into the colonial and chaotic history of the country, while he also grapples with his own turmoil. He is part Indian and part African, w ...more
Aug 12, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
This is probably a 2.5. I kept reading it because I liked the cover so much, and the description on the jacket was compelling, and I was waiting for a book to arrive from my holds list. Those aren't really good reasons to read a book, but I stuck with it and am glad I did.

I wish I'd gotten a better picture in my head of what it's actually like in Tanzania-- I feel like there was a lot of talk about it but I still don't feel like I was there, so that's an issue for me. I plodded along for the fi
Nov 25, 2013 Susan rated it liked it
Shelves: tanzania
I feel as if I should have liked this book more than I did - as I'm fascinated by Africa, have visited Tanzania, am interested in interracial families and immigration - plus I at first mistakenly thought the author was someone else (name also Asian and beginning with V) whose work I really like! So started with many preconceptions but ended up being rather bored; as another reviewer said, not even caring that much whether the "hero" found Saida, his long lost childhood friend, or not. The atmosp ...more
Follows one man, Kamal, in his journey to his homeland of Tanzania to track down his one true love from his childhood. Kamal's ancestors (and the ancestors of his sweetheart) are part of the story, which shows how Indian and African cultures come together in Arab-controlled East Africa and the devastating effects of European colonization, revolts, wars, and racism.

There is a lot of detail in the book, which can be hard to follow. Especially for those of us previously unfamiliar with this history
Sep 24, 2014 Mary rated it it was ok
Shelves: world-fiction
Unlike his prize winners, The Book of Secrets or The In-between world of Vikram Lall, this book disappointed. The way the book was structured made it a difficult read, and the story needed to lose about 20% of its length to keep engagement with the reader. Set in East Africa, it did convey the sense of time, place and character that I love to see in my world fiction reading, but did so in such a torturous way that I lost empathy with the characters. In the end, I consider it important that the a ...more
Apr 16, 2013 Sharron rated it it was ok
Shelves: africa, fiction
Thought provoking and informative if 20th century East Africa is of interest to you but in stark contrast to two other novels I have read by Vassanjii, I found this title tough going, especially at the beginning. If it were not for the fact that my two other encounters with his work were so enjoyable, I would never have finished this title as the first half was so tedious. I can't begin to recall how many times I picked it up and put it down again after reading just a few pages. It was only in t ...more
Sep 11, 2012 Christina rated it really liked it
I won this book from a first reads giveaway here on Goodreads.

Being my very first book to win I was eager to start reading it. I really enjoyed "The Magic of Saida" by M. G. Vassanji.

Reading the first few pages my imagination was captured as the protagonist was revealing the history and the natural beauty of the coast of East Africa, leaving me wanting to know more.

The main character, Kamal Punja, seems lost, trying to find where he belongs, his long lost childhood sweetheart and the promise he
Aug 24, 2015 Gabby rated it it was ok
The author's writing style is slow and sometimes the syntax is odd which makes reading this book, at times, feel awkward.

Also, some editing wouldn't have been amiss. While I appreciate the attempt to infuse a lot of history, the story gets bogged down by too many of those details. There's even one section set in the past of one of the characters that really had no bearing on the story.

There were a few things that went unresolved, but mainly, the story ended too quickly and abruptly. The quest,
Mar 22, 2014 Carol rated it liked it
I expected to like the book.

I did. And I didn't.

It's not a book that can be read quickly. I kept getting bogged down. Bogged down with names I didn't know how to say. And with words I couldn't pronounce and didn't know the meaning. I tired of looking them up. Maybe I'm spoiled reading on my Nook where I can just touch the word and get the definition.

I can understand that the book has a lot of depth. It explored a lot of avenues. The author is probably a very good author. I just don't want to ta
Julie Bridgelal prine
I gave this book 3 stars because I find it to be over ambitious . The Book suffers from too many plots. I do love the way the author documents historical fiction. However, lots of it wasn't explained further and being somewhat familiar with East African history I got by. I would have found it beneficial to have some notes to accompany the book with reference. I still enjoyed the book and recommend it to those who love historical fiction. However it's not, in my opinion the author's best work.
May 24, 2013 Corry rated it liked it
Mixed feelings about this book. It was hard to get into the story, maybe also because it took me 3 weeks to read it, but also because of the many Swahili language sentences in it. The translation came as well but I find it hard to read a language that I don't understand. It is a interesting story though about life in East Africa and the way people lived there and interacted with each other: the muslim population and the Africans, the Indian people.
The end is definitly not a storybook ending...
John Benson
Apr 15, 2014 John Benson rated it really liked it
This novel tells the story of a Canadian doctor who returns to Tanzania, the land of his birth as a half-caste Indian/African, to find an old lover in Kilwa. The book is quite confusing in the beginning but the mysteries in the book pull it along. As an American who grew up in Tanzania, I have always liked Vassanji's writings as he has explored his own Tanzanian Indian culture and the struggles and connections between the various East African cultures. This book continues that thread that he has ...more
May 14, 2015 Pallavi rated it really liked it
Initially, I couldn't get past the first few pages. There was something intense about the story. However, once I got about to reading it, The Magic of Saida was un-put-downable. The book is magical and haunting, it is gripping in its own way. A lot of history, a lot of magic, what is fact, what is fiction, one cannot say. It is a beautifully written book, and is like slow poetry, it takes it own sweet time to appeal to you.
Fran Fisher
Jul 23, 2014 Fran Fisher rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Saida was a difficult story to embrace. Two or three languages, various African locations (and no map), and two narrators as well. Confusing at the beginning.

It evened out and became more interesting, though it was never quick going. The writer opened up a part of the world, where Africa and India intersect, that I did not know existed. Add to that mix, the overbearing and mostly unwelcome whites and their wars, and the layers settle together like sediment on a pond.

Strange and interestsing
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Moyez G. Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. Before coming 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 interes ...more
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