The Magic of Saida
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The Magic of Saida

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  251 ratings  ·  48 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 t...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 25th 2012 by Doubleday Canada (first published January 1st 2012)
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Steven Langdon
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
Katie Mercer
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...more
Zen
Feb 25, 2013 Zen rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Ksab
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!!
John Benson
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
Andree
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...more
Sharon
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
FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM CONTEMPORARY WORLD WRITERS SHOWCASE SERIES VIA GOODREADS —-ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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,...more
Jeff Scott
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
Barbara Sibbald
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...more
Lara Kleinschroth
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
Ming
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 story...one that portrays and critiques the colonial and post-colonial climates along with depicting cultural adaptation...more
Sarah
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...more
Susan
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
Jhodi
Half African, half Indian boy who has been shuttled around his entire life and never fit in, desperately trid to find his chidldhood friend. A lovely story, somewhat complicated.
Sharron
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
Carol
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...more
Christina
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...more
Spoiledyorkie
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.
Lindsay
quit halfway in.
Corry
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...
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.
Michelle
I won this book through Goodreads First Reads.

I found this book hard to get into and start reading. It wasn't until the third part of the book that I started to find it interesting. It's a really descriptive book and there are parts of Kamal's life that are heartbreaking. When Saida is finally found by Kamal after all the years apart it was anti-climatic. He searched forever to find her and then all they really do is have a conversation and that's it?!
Rannie
Dr. Kamal Punja is a man between worlds - African, yet Indian. Swahili village boy, but also successful, sophisticated Canadian physician.
Abandoned and abandoner. Faithful friend, yet betrayer. He returns to his childhood home in Tanzania after many years of exile seeking his childhood friend, but in doing so, finds himself. This novel gave me an interesting glimpse into the people and 20th century history of Tanzania and East Africa.
Toto
Don't read this book for the writing. Don't read it for the love story either, since it is not at all convincing. I for one did not buy for a minute that a 50+ man would leave behind his kids and life in Canada in search of his "Beatrice" so to speak--a girl he loved as a little boy. Tanzania and its history are new to me; at least I learned a few things about the people who live there.
Stephanie
I loved reading about Tanzania and its history and also reading all the Swahili! (I could even understand parts of it). The story itself was pretty engaging, too, although sad: a half-caste African/Indian boy struggles to find his place in the world. By all accounts, he has huge financial and career success, yet in middle age he yearns back to the time and place where he had nothing.
June
An incredible read. It grips you and holds you in its spell as the story weaves from continent to continent, character to character, child to manhood, and beyond. It reveals our humanity and our vulnerabilities in handling life's successes and challenges. Don"t we all hold onto our memories of someone who touched our soul and can one truly go back?
Mark Robertson
Vassanji is one of my favourite authors, but - I dunno - this book just didn't grab me until maybe the last 75 pages. Somehow I got bogged down, which is unusual. Still though I've learned a lot from Vassanji about Tanzanian (and Kenyan) history. It's a whole other world, and a fascinating one.
Victoria
Not my favorite of Vassanji's books, which I normally love. The ending rushed up on me, and felt significantly less satisfying and solid than his previous works. That said, the strength of his prose throughout the rest of his book is - as per usual - brilliant and moving. It makes up for the ending.
Ava Homa
A very rich book, a love story with historical/social/religious/psychological layers. This is not a good book, it's a great one, like everything else I have read by this author. I finish the book with the desire to have time to re-read it, certain that with each reading, I will discover more depth.
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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
More about M.G. Vassanji...
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