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The Assassin's Song

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  537 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
M.G. Vassanji’s magnificent new novel provides further proof of his unique, wide ranging and profound genius. The Assassin’s Song is a shining study of the conflict between ancient loyalties and modern desires, a conflict that creates turmoil the world over – and it is at once an intimate portrait of one man’s painful struggle to hold the earthly and the spiritual in balan ...more
Paperback, 339 pages
Published August 12th 2008 by Anchor Canada (first published January 1st 2007)
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(showing 1-30)
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Ben Babcock
Oct 17, 2008 Ben Babcock rated it really liked it
On the back cover of my edition, there's a blurb from The Globe and Mail that calls the book "timeless." That is the most accurate single-word evaluation of The Assassin's Song.

Once you've plunged into the book and read a couple of chapters, you immediately get that sense of timelessness. M. G. Vassanji intersperses aspects of the "present day" with events in the thirteenth century and events from the narrator's childhood. The historical events take on the quality of a story or a myth, whereas t
...more
Arachne8x
I'm giving this a solid 3 because I found it pretty engaging. On the other hand, I questioned several times why I was reading it. Because while I was hooked, I wasn't really enjoying it.

The book isn't a novel so much as a fictional biography, and the main character has a pretty bizarre life. He's an Indian boy who was raised near a shrine that his family had inherited the duty and privilege of keeping up. His father was said to be an avatar, and he would be some day his successor. So of course t
...more
Abbe
From Publishers Weekly

The tension between India's centuries-old spiritual traditions and contemporary religious militancy drives this memorable, melancholy family saga by two-time Canadian Giller Prize–winner Vassanji (who won for The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall). Karsan Dargawalla is destined from boyhood to succeed his father and his father's father as avatar of Pirbaag, a 13th-century Sufi shrine. As the novel unfolds in fits and starts, Karsan rejects his spirit

...more
Shirley Freeman
When in India, buy an Indian author's book and read it. I never would have picked this up at home but I'm glad I did. I gained a new understanding of Indian culture and some of the religious traditions which seem so foreign to a Western mind. Karsan Dargawalla is the son of the Saheb - the lord and keeper - of Pirbaag, the Shrine of the Wanderer. As was his father before him - all the way back to 1260 when the Wanderer first arrived in the area. Parts of the story take place in the 1260s so the ...more
Meera Damji
The author has a knack of telling a tale minus any dramatisation or hoo-hah! It's that simplicity in his writing style as well as the characters that cuts through. And then, when he says things to the tune of: "I had an itch in my ear that seemed more real than this whole procession I was in, celebrating me becoming the next gaadi-vaaras", you couldnt agree more! Yay Vassanji.
Supriya Sodhi
I actually started reading this book by accident. A friend was giving away old books and this was one of them. The title suggested a murder mystery and so i picked it up.

Turns out, its a beautiful story with history, religion, family drama and great story telling. What it isn't is a murder mystery but you will still find yourself captured and wanting more!
Marvin
Aug 01, 2009 Marvin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There was nothing identifiably bad about this book, but after 75 pages neither the story nor the characters had captured my interest, so I bailed out. Narrated by the heir of a traditional spiritual leader in India, it was, I guess, a story of Hindu-Muslim conflict.
Lorina Stephens
The Assassin’s Song, by M.G. Vassanji comes with an impressive list of literary accolades, having been shortlisted for the Giller and the GG. Yet, for my part, there is a definite lack of simpatico or connection with Vassanji’s tale.


The novel is set in India from Partition to the devastating religious violence of the early 21st century, following the timeless theme of father/son tension and sibling disharmony. There is a rich vein of material here to mine, and mine it Vassanji does. Yet there i
...more
Chad Sayban
The Assassin’s Song tells the story of Karsan Dargawalla. Beginning with his childhood in rural India, Karsan becomes aware of his destiny to succeed his father as the spiritual leader of their community and the protector of The Shrine of the Wanderer – servicing all who come there to worship. However, Karsan begins to discover there is a much more exciting world beyond their home and – on a whim – applies and is accepted to study half a world away at Harvard University. What ensues is Karsan’s ...more
Lindsie
Jun 09, 2014 Lindsie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's taking me a while to finish this book. There are two reasons for this. I have it out it out of the library as my book-to-read-at-work, so I've been limited to breaks and lunchtimes, which often get re-prioritized for walks and errands.

I have the hardest time reading books about India written by international authors (the authors of the books I am exposed to that take place on that continent are never just from India. They are English or Canadian too). I find that the feeling of the prose i
...more
Shaun Bona
Jul 23, 2011 Shaun Bona rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was initially demanding to get into this novel and not as enjoyable as The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. Once you grasp the history and timelines, you can appreciate the cleverly-written plot. I valued being somewhat more educated on the result of partitioning India, essentially based on religious demographics, and the ongoing conflicts between India and Pakistan.

Noteworthy extracts:

“Though who knows why people pack up and go? It’s only themselves they are running from.”

“Physically I may b
...more
Lorraine
Oct 12, 2008 Lorraine rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: book clubs and students
Recommended to Lorraine by: GG nominee
Shelves: i-own-it, canadian
Karsan is heir to position of saheb, but he feels it is too restrictive and almost impulsively goes to America to study. Essentially he tries to run away from his identity. And this is what I liked about the story -- it examines identity, and asks how much of it do we shape ourselves, and how much are we shaped by our ancestry, our heritage, our family, and our destiny? What does it mean to escape from the familial expectations; can we escape? The answers suggested here are not going to be the r ...more
Kathy Block
Mar 03, 2013 Kathy Block rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-2
An excellent read. Though a little slow in the beginning, the book picks up momentum and is brought to a satisfying end. It's the story of family relations: father to son and brother to brother. Karsan, the main character, is expected to take his father's place as keeper of a shrine, but the hopes and dreams of Karsan are not the same as those of his father and he finds a way to leave his home to become a student in the U.S. World views between all members of the family collide, leading to deep ...more
Ari
Jun 10, 2016 Ari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Moving - cannot recommend higher!"

The Assassin's Song is an amazing book that moved me to my core. I have met a lot of amazing Indians and Pakistani through the years, without realizing the historical trauma that lies between the homelands of their people. Remember a friend's effort in explaining to me the scene of conflicts between Muslim and Hindus in the movie "Slumdog Millionaire"; here, M. G. Vassanji has plunged us into the turmoil and sadness of such tragedies in his beautiful work of "T
...more
Lauren
Jul 09, 2007 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had a publishers ARC of this soon-to-be published novel and it's incredible. It follows of the life of Kirsan Dargawalla from northern India where he is next-in-line to become the lord of a local Sufi shrine. Despite his legacy, he longs for an ordinary life, and emigrates to the States where he goes to Harvard and embarks on an academic life. He is continously haunted by his heritage and when he returns India, after some personal setbacks, he begins to discover what, if anything, is left for ...more
Micebyliz
not quite finished. the copy i have is about 375 pages, so i think there is an error in the posting.
I read The Magic of Saida recently so i knew that i would enjoy another of his books, but i was wrong. It's written well but i'm not picking up the deeper meanings and nuances that i did in his other book. I made some notes that i will add later.
I like the passage on page 89 "We were a country of sages. They were all over the place, sometimes clogging the streets and roadways."
again i enjoyed thi
...more
misha
Apr 16, 2016 misha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian-fiction
Beautifully written prose and a touching story of duty vs freedom and whether that freedom is ever what we imagined it would be.

This book touches on one of my favourite subjects as well - what it means to be part of the Indian diaspora, sometimes lost in the Western world but ultimately seduced by its promise of individuality and choice.

Communal violence is also a strong theme throughout and I thought Vassanji's positioning of Pirbaag as between faiths and not solely defined by one was very clev
...more
Anne
Feb 26, 2008 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
The story of a man's struggle against what is seen as his destiny.
Set mostly in India, it is a compelling book with wonderful characters. We feel for Karsan, the protaganist as he defies his father, all the time feeling the pull of family, faith and history. We also feel for the father as he tries to keep his son and guide him as his successor.
I have not been to India, but the descriptions of the shrine which was his home in the fictional town of Pirbaag in northern India were so graphic, not o
...more
Laura
Mar 16, 2011 Laura rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just was not digging this book at all. I got 3 or 4 chapters in and that was all I could handle. I found the writing was very pretty but the story it self was just so dull (if that makes sense) usually by chapter 3 or 4 you'd expect to be starting to get a feel for the characters in the book but I found I hardly knew anything about the characters, and I certainly didn't care about any of them. I don't know maybe if I would have kept reading but I didn't like the authors style of writing it wa ...more
Margot
Jun 27, 2008 Margot rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Let's follow Karsan Dargawalla on his quest for the American dream: escape the responsibility of filial duty in the Gujarat province of India to attend Harvard, escape the spiritual responsibility to his people in his hometown shrine of Pirbaag to immerse himself in English literature and intellectual pursuits, and escape conformity to his fate by forging a new, simpler identity for himself. But we can never escape who we are, and Karsan returns to his hometown and his role as the shrine's caret ...more
Sharon
Nov 18, 2010 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
M.G. Vassanji is a wonderful story teller and it is no surprise that he has previously won two Gillers. The story of Karsan Dargawalla unravels as Vassanji takes you back and forth from the present to events of many years ago, but mostly at the time of the Partition. Karsan is next in line to assume the lordship of a shrine to the ancient Muslim mystic, Nur Fazal. This shrine came to be visited by both Muslims and Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, and many of no affiliation. The Sufi, Nur Fazal, asp ...more
Ash Mishra
Aug 06, 2011 Ash Mishra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its vivid and has some thoughtful moments, but the start is a tedious read. The core of the book gets interesting, but then climaxes rather early and falls flat. This surprised me - it almost felt as if the author got tired of writing, and wanted to get to his predetermined conclusion (moral/lesson to teach) faster. The ending was better and resumed some form of meaning. The book does have deep meaning -it's not for everyone though, especially those without an understanding or interest in buddhi ...more
Norma
Nov 02, 2008 Norma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took a while for me to get into the book and start putting the ideas behind the plot structure together. Once I got going it was difficult to put down...even at the end!! The story takes place in India and is the fictional autobiography of a young man who is destined to become the caretaker and spiritual master of a small religious shrine in India. The first master was an ancestor of his. His story goes back and forth between the narrator's contemporary world and that of his predecessors.
Jill
Mar 06, 2013 Jill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vassanji started with an interesting concept but stopped short of transforming a great idea into a brilliant novel. Although it's personal, what makes a great novel for me is that the author puts the reader in the characters' shoes - makes that character human, real, and someone worthy of both understanding and sympathy. In the Assassin's Song, Karsan comes into himself but the character and the author examine the situation with an almost clinical abstraction. It left me a little cold.
David Grieve
I found this quite hard work. The language was at timesquite difficult and I found it hard to keep up with the time lines within the story. Having said that, it was ultimately rewarding. It is a clever concept following the life of a man destined to be the leader of the people who worship at a shrine, but who does not want this destiny. All this set against a Gujarati background from the late 50s until the present day. Worth the effort.
Terri Epp
I have mixed emotions about this book. I found the plot became very plodding in places. I also found it difficult to understand the significance of shrines within the Indian culture. The main character chooses to leave his spiritual destiny to study in the United States. He soon realizes he does not choose his own destiny but his destiny is chosen for him. Throughout the story he suffers much personal loss due to the choices he made with his life.
Jackie
Sadly, I am giving up on this book. I wanted to LOVE it, and unfortunately, I only liked it. I am over half way through, but I am too busy to read on, so that's the end of that.

This book is about a Sufi saint in the 13th Century and his shrine/legacy in the modern era. Its about Hindus, Muslims, and those not Hindu or Muslim. Great themes, fascinating historical context, and well written, I just cannot finish.
Deodand
May 31, 2008 Deodand rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, asia
As much as I liked this, I had to force myself to finish it. I enjoyed reading about Sufism, this being my first exposure to it. The main character, however, felt a little whiny to me. I wanted him to stand up and make a decision somewhere in the middle of the book.

I guess I was expecting more from a Giller Prize book.
Desiree
I found the book a little tedious to get through. I have read many great books written about life in India - these was not one of them. I guess the point the author wanted to make was that the Hindus and the Muslims have always disagreed about the differences in their religion and will continue to disagree. And sometimes those differences turn into massacres and war. Lesson learned - none.
Kelli
Jul 03, 2014 Kelli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2014
My heart as a mom was broken by the way the main character turned away from his family calling, but in the end it probably saved his life.

The Assassin's Song weaves the recent past, modern times, and the ancient past together in such a smooth way that it leaves you thinking "Of course, nothing else could possibly make sense".
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The Assassin's Song 1 10 Sep 07, 2008 06:31AM  
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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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“We were a country of sages. They were all over the place, sometimes clogging the streets and roadways.” 2 likes
“Marge Thompson with Karsan Dargawalla: I recall repeating the names, getting a thrill from their unlikely, gobbledygook togetherness.” 0 likes
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