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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,673 Ratings  ·  168 Reviews
Vikram Lall comes of age in 1950s Kenya, at the same time that the colony is struggling towards independence. Against the unsettling backdrop of Mau Mau violence, Vic and his sister Deepa, the grandchildren of an Indian railroad worker, search for their place in a world sharply divided between Kenyans and the British. We follow Vic from a changing Africa in the fifties, to ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Vintage (first published December 31st 1999)
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Sylvia The childhood dreamworld of the early chapters establishes the idealism of the hope of the country and its people. All worlds are together in harmony…moreThe childhood dreamworld of the early chapters establishes the idealism of the hope of the country and its people. All worlds are together in harmony with each other in an atmosphere of peace and love. The decades that follow leave that idyllic world in shambles ending in the ugly corruption of the seventies and eighties. The idyllic world is expressed again by the author as he gazes across the pristine snow of Canada and the long vistas off the frozen lake to the far shores beyond. (less)
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Scotiabank Giller Prize winners
17th out of 23 books — 58 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Margitte

"My name is Vikram Lall. I have the distinction of having been numbered one of Africa's most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning. To me has been attributed the emptying of a large part of my troubled country's treasury in recent years. I head my country's List of Shame..."

The modern day history and cultures of Kenya is intertwined with the folklore and history of India by the protagonist, Vikram Lall, while hiding in Canada after he was used as a scapegoat by the corrupt off
...more
Shelly Sanders
Mar 06, 2013 Shelly Sanders rated it it was amazing
The Globe and Mail say this book belongs "in a category with Tolstoy's War and Peace. As a fan of Russian literature, especially Tolstoy, I had to give this book a read. This turned out to be a good decision; just as Tolstoy pulls readers back into Russian history, Vassanji takes readers on a journey through time in Africa. Alternating between the present and past, the narrator, Vikram Lall tells the remarkable story of his life as an Indian boy growing up as a minority in Nakru. I am instantly ...more
Zanna
Mar 13, 2016 Zanna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this as part of Great African Reads group's focus on Kenya this year. This enabled me to realise that this book is in dialogue with Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o which sketches a racist portrayal (via second hand white supremacy) of the Kenyan Indian community in its provincial setting, inviting reply. Like Vassanji, Vikram Lall is a Desi Kenyan and this story is about growing up during Kenya's struggle for independence. I was looking forward to reading an Asian perspective, but fr ...more
Ben Babcock
This is my first book of the year, and it took me quite some time to get into it.

Few things annoy me more than when an author decides to ignore such a useful stylistic conventions as using quotation marks to offset dialogue! I like quotation marks. It makes the book easier to parse and gives me a clear idea of who is saying what. I discarded Blindness for similar reasons. Had I not been more favourably disposed to M.G. Vassanji after reading The Assassin's Song , I might have done the same th
...more
internat librarian
Vassanji has written a beautiful and tragic epic of 20th century Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta, the first President, was brutal. As were the Mau Maus, when they hacked apart women and children in their war to end British colonialism.

These horrors provide a context, but not the core. There are more subtle, personal brutalities at work. Vikram Lall is an Indian Kenyan, well-placed in-between conflicts and threats. He finds racism in every aspect of life – from his mother, to his colleagues, to his best fr
...more
Friederike Knabe
Oct 28, 2014 Friederike Knabe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa, canadian-lit
Vikram Lall, the narrator of this engrossing story, looks back over the last fifty years of his life. From the safety of his self-imposed exile in Canada, he takes the reader through a selection of pertinent years. The choices are years that were pivotal in his personal life and intimately linked in the historical development of his home country of Kenya. The passage of time allows him to describe the people and events in a dispassionate voice which affects the reader deeply. While not openly se ...more
Susan
Dec 06, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
So much terror and love and loyalties and human failings to explore in this book. And what a sense of safety to do it in the hands of an exceptional storyteller and word artist such as Vassanji. It was a bonus, as well, to learn about the political history of Kenya in the 1950s – 80s through the richly imagined characters who embodied all aspects of those 3-way racially charged times. As for my 4 stars instead of 5 … I simply could not buy into that last page. So much to ponder en route to that ...more
Nancy
Nov 12, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
Vikram leads an in-between life. He is an Asian (Indian), neither European nor African, growing up in Kenya in the 1950s. His mother holds onto her ties to India, while his father is in thrall to Elizabeth, the newly crowned queen of the British Empire. The Mau Maus threaten their small community from the surrounding jungle, while the neighborhood's African house servants are harassed by the police for suspicion of collaboration. Vic's best friends are Njoroge, the grandson of one of the servant ...more
Shane
Dec 22, 2008 Shane rated it really liked it
I found the writing a bit stilted although the subject matter was most interesting
Daren
Jul 30, 2015 Daren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of this novel works well. Vikram Lall was 'in between' in all aspects of his life. In between cultures (of Indian heritage in Kenya - neither black nor white); in between relationships - the buffer between his forward thinking sister, who falls in love with a black man, and his mother, stuck in her traditional thinking; as a middle man - in between the American financiers laundering the money they are providing to corrupt politicians to prevent Kenya following Tanzania into communism; ...more
Kristel
May 28, 2009 Kristel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, fiction-adult
I picked this one up as part of my continuing efforts to read all the winners of the Giller prize. (I've read 12, I think, of 16.) MG Vassanji is a two-time winner of the prize and his other winner, The Book of Secrets, is still on my to-be-read pile. (It's also on my mental to-be-bought list, but one day...)

From The New Yorker, a description: 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—symboliz
...more
Ali
Mar 24, 2008 Ali rated it really liked it
Synopsis
Sweeping in scope, both historically and geographically, Vassanji weaves a rich tapestry of vivid characters, real and imagined, in a Kenya poised between colonialism and independence. Vikram Lall, like his adopted country, inhabits an 'in-between world': between the pull of his ancestral home in India and the Kenya he loves passionately; between his tragic past in Africa and an unclear future in Canada; between escape from political terror and a seemingly inevitable return home ...a ret
...more
Tim
Aug 28, 2009 Tim rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book if one has lived in Kenya and knows the geography and the people by personal experience. I was fortunate to have lived there so it was very authentic and vivid. If I hadn't lived there, this would drop to a three, because the world Vassanji paints is so hard to enter.

The story is set in Kenya as World War II ends, the British Empire dissolves, nationhood is bestowed on former colonies, and many dreams and hopes are steadily betrayed. In the middle of those broad sweeps, the stor
...more
Eric Wright
Dec 03, 2010 Eric Wright rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Although this Booker prize-winning story seems to start slow with the adventures of some young playmates in the dusty streets of a Kenyan town, the story becomes compelling. From the beginning Vassanji drops subtle hints of tragedies to come that affect the playmates as they grow; the English boy and girl representing the British colonial administration, the Kikuyu boy representing the tribal people, and Vikram and his sister Deepa representing the Indians brought in to build the railway who bec ...more
Seema
May 08, 2014 Seema rated it liked it
This book focuses on an Indian family that decides to stay in Kenya after independence from the British, which is absolutely fascinating to me because my mom's family (and so many others) fled. It started out strong and I loved learning about Nakuru and the complicated cultural and political dynamics between the Indians, the British, the Masai, and the Kikuyus. However, I found the story-telling a bit choppy and didn't think the Canada piece really worked. In any case, I'm looking forward to rea ...more
Janice
Jun 24, 2007 Janice added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is a great book for its characters, less the narrator's than the profound understanding he shows for the people who are a part of and affect his life. There is no depiction of good or evil, just people caught inside the strenghts and weakness of who they are and the circumstances in which they live. There is a poignant space throughout the book, a despair almost - a space we typically bridge with anger and judgement - where the human limitations of people with great power: political leaders ...more
ACS Librarian
Vassanji has written a beautiful and tragic epic of 20th century Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta, the first President, was brutal. As were the Mau Maus, when they hacked apart women and children in their war to end British colonialism.

These horrors provide a context, but not the core. There are more subtle, personal brutalities at work. Vikram Lall is an Indian Kenyan, well-placed in-between conflicts and threats. He finds racism in every aspect of life 13 from his mother, to his colleagues, to his best f
...more
Sally Tarbox
"The terror that permeated our world like a mysterious ether,", 9 August 2015

This review is from: In Between World of Vikram Lall (Paperback)
An extremely readable work (though I found it dragged a little towards the end, as illegal dealings and fictional meetings with the President occupy the storyline). Narrated by the eponymous 'hero', who tells us at the outset of his being numbered "one of Africa's most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning."
Two strands run alongside - pri
...more
Karrie
Nov 14, 2014 Karrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book has everything in it: family, friendship, love, post-colonialism, racism, sexism, corruption, passion, tragedy, betrayal....everything! A truly talented writer, Vassanji tells us the story of Vik Lall, a loveable yet often spineless character who is deemed to be one of the most corrupt men in Africa. We meet Vik as a child, and watch his life unfold in Kenya in a tumultuous time. Just read it-- I finished it some months ago, and am tempted to read it again already.
Alice
Dec 24, 2008 Alice rated it liked it
I really wish there were parts of stars iin this rating system. I would give this one a 3.7. I enjoyed this book primarily because I liked learning about Kenyan independence from the perspective of its Asian citizens - interesting stuff on family, race, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, that sort of stuff. I liked the characters. This book didn't blow me out of the water, but it is a quick read and one I would recommend - would be a good one for a book club.
Pratibha
Jul 22, 2013 Pratibha rated it it was amazing
Story based in Nakuru, small towns around Nakuru and Nairobi soon after independence. It tells stories of what Indians went thru and the fear that they had live with. For me, it was a fascinating read since I grew up in Nakuru.
Marieke
I liked the first part best, the part when the narrator is a child. But as the story progressed I felt less engaged. I'm not quite sure what didn't work for me, though. If I figure it out, I'll come back.

Julia
Jan 31, 2014 Julia rated it it was ok
This is an important account of the strife and pain in Africa during post-colonial times. The history is complex. Vassanji has written a novel that revolves around a boy who during this difficult time in history struggles with what is expected of him and what his heart is telling him to do. He has to make choices between idealism and lawlessness.

I thought the writing itself was rather hard to become engaged with. I often got lost with the names and who is saying what, which left me not knowing w
...more
Antonia Banyard
Oct 26, 2015 Antonia Banyard rated it it was amazing
I won't summarize the plot, and several other reviewers have covered that well already. This book is not an easy read, nor a fast one. It's more of a slow burn. Once it gets going, though, it's absorbing and compelling. Vassanji is not only trying to capture history and the political intricacies of the time, but he's also mapping the interior life of his main character, Vikram. Vikram is a complex character. In some ways he is hard to like, but I also found myself identifying with him a lot. I t ...more
Courtney
Oct 25, 2013 Courtney rated it it was amazing
Hands down, one of the best and most compelling works of fiction I've read in a long time. Rich characters and an interesting historical context.
Susan
May 19, 2015 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: kenya
Continuing my reading of books by Kenyan authors in preparation for our trip there this summer. Vic and sister Deepa are of Indian descent; parents are shopkeepers in a small town as MauMau rebellion gathers strength and power. Talk of independence and of Kenyatta is in the air. The two children befriend an African boy (grandson of their gardener) and two British children living in Kenya. The book follows these relationships through the early hopes of independence and subsequent corruption and d ...more
Resalo
Oct 29, 2014 Resalo rated it really liked it
Born in Kenya in the mid 1940s, Vikram Lall grows up in relatively peaceful times as an Asian during British colonial rule. His childhood is shattered when the rebels begin attacking white settlers and his 2 best friends who are white are brutally murdered along with their parents. This event is the beginning of change as Kenya moves towards independence in 1963. As an Asian Vic must figure out a way to survive among the changing racial and political climate. His efforts to survival draw him int ...more
Denise
Oct 05, 2014 Denise rated it really liked it
Vikram Lall takes us from his youth in the 1950s through to life in the 1990s to understand the politics and cultural values that can lead good people to make bad decisions. The story takes us through complicated and changing dynamics between the Indians, British, Masai, and Kikuyus which helped to inform my understanding of the Mau Mau. I appreciated this new understanding shortly after reading, when watching "The First Grader" - The true story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex Mau Mau f ...more
Isla McKetta
Oct 14, 2014 Isla McKetta rated it really liked it
Somehow reading this book in India made the book and my life make more sense. I enjoyed reading about a post-The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, post-Out of Africa Kenya, especially from the point of view of a man of Punjabi descent.
Adam
Aug 02, 2012 Adam rated it liked it
This was recommended reading for the ACM Tanzania program. It's clear why. The drama of this book is intertwined with the drama of Tanzania's independence and growth as a young nation. Vikram's early years are colored by the dark, fearful nights of the Mau Mau revolutionaries, by the blind oppression of the British; his later years are defined by the corruption of Kenya's post-colonial government. His unique personality flows from the cultural interactions between the immigrant Indian community ...more
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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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