The Assassin's Song
By M. G. Vassanji
(Vintage Books USA, Paperback, 9781400076574, 338pp.)
Publication Date: August 12, 2008
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In the aftermath of the brutal violence that gripped western India in 2002, Karsan Dargawalla, heir to Pirbaag – the shrine of a mysterious, medieval sufi – begins to tell the story of his family. His tale opens in the 1960s: young Karsan is next in line after his father to assume lordship of the shrine, but he longs to be “just ordinary.” Despite his father's pleas, Karsan leaves home behind for Harvard, and, eventually, marriage and a career. Not until tragedy strikes, both in Karsan's adopted home in Canada and in Pirbaag, is he drawn back across thirty years of separation and silence to discover what, if anything, is left for him in India.
His first novel, The Gunny Sack, won a regional Commonwealth Writers Prize, and he was invited to be writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa. The novel's success was a spur, Vassanji has commented: "It was translated into several languages. I was confident that this was what I could do, that writing was not just wishful thinking. In 1989 I quit my full-time job and began researching The Book of Secrets." That celebrated, bestselling novel won the inaugural Giller Prize, in 1994.
Vassanji's other books include the acclaimed novels No New Land (1991) and Amriika (1999), and Uhuru Street (1991), a collection of stories. His unique place in Canadian literature comes from his elegant, classical style, his narrative reach, and his interest in characters trying to reconcile different worlds within themselves. The subtle relations of the past and present are also constants in his writing: "When someone asks you where you are from or who you are, there is a whole resume of who you are. I know very few people who do not have a past to explain. That awareness is part of my work."
M.G. Vassanji was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize in 1994 in recognition of his achievement in and contribution to the world of letters, and was in the same year chosen as one of twelve Canadians on "Maclean's" Honour Roll. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.
"From the Hardcover edition."
“A deeply affecting story, full of contemplation and mystery. . . . At once lush and precise.”
“Thought-provoking and satisfying. . . . There are echoes of Rohinton Mistry, of V. S. Naipaul, of Salman Rushdie. But the lyricism of Karsan's contemplations, the careful evocation of place, the writer's obvious warmth for his characters, the sense of compassion layered into the story—these are all Vassanji's.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“A resplendent novel. . . .Vassanji eloquently details the sufferings of Karsan's family as the price of his individual freedom.”
—The New Yorker
“Moving. . . . A complex, multifaceted drama, one that interweaves history, religion and politics with a vibrant personal story.”
—San Francisco Chronicle