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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  2,784 Ratings  ·  176 Reviews
It is 1953 in colonial Kenya, and eight-year-old Vikram Lall witnesses the celebration of Queen Elizabeth's coronation, even as the Mau Mau guerrilla war challenges British rule. Vic and his sister Deepa must find their lace in this uncertain world of violent upheaval, confusing loyalties and conflicting ideologies. And among their newly acquired playmates, the brother and ...more
Hardcover, 405 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Doubleday Canada Ltd (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)

Community Reviews

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Whitney Atkinson
This got really political and lost me. I like reading classics and literary fiction for the character development, and this one just leaned to the dry side. Some aspects were interesting, but the climax of the book and what it was leading up to was a bit of a let-down.

"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
Feb 09, 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
Shelly Sanders
Mar 06, 2013 Shelly Sanders rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Int'l 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
Friederike Knabe
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
May 16, 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
Oct 17, 2013 Suze rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 22, 2008 Shane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the writing a bit stilted although the subject matter was most interesting
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
Mar 21, 2008 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 03, 2009 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 03, 2014 Seema rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 07, 2013 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.
Jul 22, 2013 Pratibha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 25, 2013 Courtney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Taslim Jaffer
Dec 11, 2011 Taslim Jaffer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vikram Lall is an Indian boy growing up in Kenya during colonial times; his grandfather left his homeland of India to work on the Kenyan railways, laying down its rails and the foundation for his family’s life in this new, breath-takingly beautiful country. He and his sister, Deepa, befriend a Kikuyu boy Njoroge and two British children, brother and sister Bill and Annie Bruce. The five of them form a complicated bond during a time when the British were in power, and were using the Asians to aid ...more
Eric Wright
Oct 07, 2010 Eric Wright rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
The story started off very strong, but by the middle I began to get bored with it. It didn't have the same flare that it began with. The ending made it all worth sticking with it until the end. So all in all, a good read.

I enjoyed the look at the lives off the characters and how they lived and tried to survive in Kenya. The author gave some glimpses of the country and what life was like for those who lived there during the time period. The author also did a good job at exploring some of the pol
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
Aug 03, 2010 Arlie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Vikram Lall has been labelled one of the most corrupt men in Africa. In Vassanji's novel, he seizes the chance to tell his story. What emerges is a complex and personal look at life in Kenya from the 70's to the 90's. Vikram is a self-professed non-political person, so his story grows all the more interesting as he recounts political events from a fairly neutral point of view. He has his own perceptions and feelings, but they are never crowded by higher political ideals or agendas. The reader co ...more
Nov 12, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 24, 2008 Alice rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 07, 2016 Liz rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't get through the Second chapter. The writer's very passive stance on everything makes it very boring to read. He also completely ignored the use of quotation marks which makes following the story very difficult.
The worst part though is the subtle undertones of racism. I just couldn't carry on without getting angry.
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.

Angel Serrano
La historia de Kenya, su independencia, la dictadura, la transición, sus luchas tribales y la corrupción se nos muestran a través de un keniata de origen hindú que pertenece a la tercera generación de compatriotas, entre los blancos y los negros.
Linda Lpp
Dec 06, 2016 Linda Lpp rated it really liked it
"The In-Between World of Vikram Lall" was an engrossing read. Despite being written > 10 years ago so many of the issues discussed beginning in the 1950's , the world still faces today (unfortunately in many cases). The book revolved around experiences in Kenya but from there we read about conditions driving people/families to relocate to other countries and continents, families torn apart, tension between races, religions, traditions, freedom fighters, government, corruption, greed, guilt, t ...more
Jan 03, 2017 L F rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the British Eastern Protectorate to Independent Kenya.

This story is from a quite different viewpoint than most stories about the journey of Kenya. The main protagonist is a Indian immigrant that were brought over as workers to the lay the rails of the infamous train that came up from Mombasa through the plains of Nairobi.
It is a moralistic tale of the extent of corruption that existed in the country even after Independence. The slippery slope that had to be climbed to even exist in this c
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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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