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The Book of Secrets

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  621 ratings  ·  63 reviews
The Book of Secrets begins in 1988, when the 1913 diary of a British colonial administrator is found in a shopkeeper's dusty backroom. Retired schoolteacher Pius Fernandes is captured by the diary's coded history. His exploration of the stories and the people in its pages uncovers a multigenerational narrative of forbidden liaisons and family secrets.
Hardcover, 337 pages
Published February 1st 1996 by Picador USA (first published April 1st 1994)
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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kamalendu Nath
Quite a fascinating angle of storytelling with an unique style providing an insight into two Colonial East African countries and its select inhabitants. The story centers on settlements around the Mount Kilimanzaro of the British East Africa (Kenya) and the German East Africa (Tanganyika). Pius Fernandes, an ex-school teacher comes across a personal diary (The Book of Secrets) of Alfred Corbin, a colonial administrator, with the entries from 1913 that’s sketchy and apparently incomplete

What fol
(view spoiler) ...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"The Book of Secrets is a spellbinding novel of generations and the sweep of history that begins in 1988 in Dar es Salaam, when the 1913 diary of a British colonial officer is found in a shopkeeper's back room. The diary enflames the curiosity of a retired schoolteacher, Pius Fernandes, whose obsession with the stories it contains gradually connects the past with the present. Inhabiting the story is a memorable cast of characters, part of an Asian community in East Africa, whose lives and
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I enjoyed this diary like novel that tells of life - particularly the Indian community - in Kenya and Tanzania from 1912 until 1988. Britisher Alfred Corbin is the ADC in a tiny Kenyan town near the border to Tanganyika, a town of immigrants from India and writes his memoir about his time there. Although the Indians were successful traders and survivors of world wars, they didn't mix with the Africans. When independence came in the 1960s the community dissolved. The fact that Indian communities ...more
This book won the Giller Prize in 1994 and I believe I have had it on my shelf almost as long! It was certainly past time for me to read this story. It takes place in Kenya, in a town near the border with Tanzania, from 1913 to 1988. A retired Indian teacher, Pius Fernandes, is given a book, actually a diary written by Sir Alfred Corbin, a British colonial administrator. He becomes obsessed with his story and how it is linked to himself in the present day. I learned a lot about the history of co ...more
I went into this book with high expectations, but I soon found that it didn't exactly meet those expectations, especially compared to the first book I read by the author. The book lacked a lot in what I look for in a good read and even compared to a previous book I read by the author, the book didn't work well for me.

The story didn't connect well for me. I found it to dragged a lot and failed to keep me engaged. The characters were lacking in their development. They felt very stiff to me and th
Shirley Schwartz
This is a book that will stick with me. Mr. Vassanji is one of my favourite authors. This book was the first to win the prestigious Giller Prize and it is the last one in my quest to read all the Giller Prize winners which I undertook about a year ago. I really enjoyed this book, both for the history and for the people that Mr. Vassanji has created. The book is about the changes experienced in an East African nation-from a Commonwealth Country, through a war and onto independence. Of course ther ...more
Kiera Healy
I read and loved The In-Between World of Vikram Lall a few years ago, so I tried out this earlier work by Vassanji. It was a big let-down. I stopped and started it a couple of times, because the opening section - a POV-shifting look at a colonial official's diary circa 1913 - was so tedious! Even when my Kindle was telling me I only had 15% of the novel left, it was a chore to pick it up.

Some elements here are nice. Vassanji's descriptive writing is frequently beautiful, and his attention to det
A nice, fine novel set mostly in Kenya and Tanganyika (largely during the colonial period from the early twentieth century to about 1990). The story is told by an Indian teacher who is given a diary that compels him to uncover the intertwined history of a colonial British administrator, a young (and tragically murdered) bride and her merchant husband, and their son, who will later marry a woman for whom the teacher had feelings. It provides an interesting glimpse into the life of muslim Indians ...more
Allie Farrell
I did not care for this book. It's the third time I've tried to get through it, and was successful at my attempt, but it doesn't feel much like success as it bored me to tears. Every time I've tried reading it, I wonder what I must be missing because the excerpts of the reviews on the cover and on the front pages are uniformly awed by the book, and these quotations are excerpted from some rather fine publications that I usually trust. Not this time.

The novel is a story within a story. A retired
As you can see from my rating, this book just did not capture me at all. I was not drawn into the story, I was unable to keep track of the characters, there were too many foreign words that I wasn’t interested enough to try to keep track of, and all of these things combined made it more and more difficult to maintain my focus as the pages crawled by. By the time the story got rolling, I was already starting to wish it was over and wondering what I should read next. I do have a quote to share tho ...more
Charlotte Wiebe
Feb 20, 2010 Charlotte Wiebe rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who is bored and has lots of time to fill.
Recommended to Charlotte by: book club
Shelves: worst-book-ever
I recommend starting this book on page 50. You really wouldn't miss much because at page 200 I still had no real solid idea of what was going on. This book jumps around and at times I thought maybe a new character was being introduced. To be fair maybe I just took too long to read this book and then I would forget what was going on although the book was just to easy to skim read or put down. I even lost it once and not on purpose(maybe I should have taken that as a sign). I really can't put my f ...more
What a wonderful read! Loved this book a lot.

This is how I love to learn about history - factual events intertwined with fictional or factual lives of people. In this case the focus is on the settlement of Kenya and Tanzania by Indian immigrants and the social and political interactions with African citizens and European (British and German) colonialists. I found it really interesting and newly educational for me to learn about the impact of especially WW1 in Europe on the colonies - Kenya being
Melissa Williams
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Beautifully written and extremely descriptive....took me into the era and the life and times. Made me think about the power of words...especially to the illiterate
Finally, after so many failed attempts to engage this book, and carting it around Europe, I've read AND enjoyed it. I read authors like MG Vassanji in order to experience life lived by other people, at other times and in places I will never know. I trust the novelist to bring the history alive and make it resonate on a personal level. It is worth making the effort to penetrate the opening chapters of this book. Characters are deeply drawn and explored from many angles as the book progresses. By ...more
David W.
According to the reviews you either loved this book or hated it.
Guess which one I was - although I did read it all the way through - so maybe a 2 star
I'm not sure how much story was actually in the book. I suppose it's a real bit of history in that way -- nothing is clear, nothing is concluded or wrapped up or given closure, everything is told and re-told from different angles. That being said, I've seen this done much more beautifully and more powerfully in other books -- such as Beloved, by Toni Morrison. This book often read dryly, without engagement with the main characters, and the story was often repeated without adding any depth of tru ...more
I enjoyed the story, but the overuse of foreign words in the book was frustrating and I couldn't get into a flow of reading.
Daniel Silveyra
A good indicator of how compelling this book can be is that whenever you switch narrators/POV, you get a little angry at the author.

The subject matter is very specific: a handful of people living in an East African English colony before and after World War II, how their paths meet and come apart.

It's a good book. That means that there are no easy good vs. evil issues. It means that the characters we like the most behave pettily at times, and the ones we like the least have streaks of greatness a
Yay, I finished the first book in my personal challenge to read through the gillers!!! I can see why this book would have won the prize, but it is not one of my favorites. I wasn't really drawn in until about half way through and then it was more of a feeling that now that i'm this far I should really just finish. the writing was fine and some of the characters were fully drawn, but the jumping back and forth left me a little perturbed at times. Not only did the author jump back and forth among ...more
Lawrence Hoof
3.5 actually. First half was 4 stars, second half was 3.
Jun 05, 2014 Amyem marked it as want_to_buy  ·  review of another edition
in the library
1917-present in Kenya
I liked his 2003 Giller winner more
Mar 28, 2015 Katrina marked it as not-gonna-finish  ·  review of another edition
The Book of Secrets was interesting to me as another source of impression about the Kenya/Tanganyika area (or, perhaps more accurately, British East Africa and German East Africa) - that also come in Karen Blitzen/Isak Dinensen's Out of Africa biographical account, and William Boyd's The Ice Cream War, a novel largely set in German East Africa with many of the same real life people featured.
I like family epics and historical fiction, so I liked those aspects of this book, but it was missing a spark to make it something better. It took me a long time to read (weeks, where normally it would only take a few days at most). I liked the story but did not feel compelled to return to it like with others I would compare it with.
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CBC Books: * 1994 - The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji 20 30 Oct 17, 2013 09:10AM  
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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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