M. G. Vassanji
|M. G. Vassanji|
|Born||Moyez G. Vassanji,
30 May 1950
|Occupation||novelist and editor, academic|
|Alma mater||Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania,|
|Genre||novels, short stories, memoir, and a biography|
Life and career
M. G. Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, where he specialised in nuclear physics, before moving to Canada as a postdoctoral fellow in 1978. From 1980 to 1989 he was a research associate at the University of Toronto. During this period he developed a keen interest in medieval Indian literature and history, co-founded and edited a literary magazine (The Toronto South Asian Review, later renamed The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad), and began writing fiction. In 1989, with the publication of his first novel, The Gunny Sack, he was invited to spend a season at the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa. In 1996 he was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla, India.
M.G. Vassanji is one of Canada's most acclaimed writers. He has published six novels, two collections of short stories, a memoir of his travels in India, and a biography of Mordecai Richler. His work has appeared in various countries and several languages. Vassanji has been nominated for the Giller Prize for best work of fiction in Canada three times, winning twice. He has also been awarded the Commonwealth Regional Prize (Africa), and the Governor-General's Prize for nonfiction. His work has also been shortlisted for the Rogers Prize, the Governor-General's Prize in Canada for fiction, as well as the Crossword Prize in India. His most recent book, set in Tanzania, was published in Canada in 2012. He is a member of the Order of Canada and has been awarded several honorary doctorates.
The focus of Vassanji's work is the situation of East African Indians. As a secondary theme, members of this community (like himself) later undergo a second migration to Europe, Canada, or the United States. Vassanji examines how the lives of his characters are affected by these migrations: "[the Indian diaspora] is very important...once I went to the US, suddenly the Indian connection became very important: the sense of origins, trying to understand the roots of India that we had inside us" (Kanaganayakam, p. 21). Vassanji looks at the relations between the Indian community, the native Africans and the colonial administration. Though few of his characters ever return to India, the country's presence looms throughout his work; his 2007 novel The Assassins Song, however, is set almost entirely in India, where it was received as an Indian novel.
Vassanji is concerned with the effects of history and the interaction between personal and public histories. Public history is memory and folk history, as well as colonial history, all three of which are interrogated in his work. The colonial history of Kenya and Tanzania serves as the backdrop for much of his work; in the Assassin's Song, however, he tackles Indian folk culture and myths. It is, however, the personal histories of the main characters that drive the narrative. Vassanji's presentation of the past is never cut-and-dried. He avoids the impression of, a simple, linear, historical truth emerging. In much of his work the mysteries of the past remain unresolved. (Kanaganayakam p. 22). He consistently refuses to be pigeonholed by nationality or faith, attempts to do which he finds offensive and malicious.Vassanji's writings have increasingly received attention by a number of literary critics who have focused on issues such as migration, diaspora, citizenship, gender and ethnicity.
Awards and honours
Vassanji's work has received considerable critical acclaim. The Gunny Sack won a regional Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1990. In 1994, he won the Harbourfront Festival Prize in recognition of his "achievement in and contribution to the world of letters." That year he was also one of twelve Canadians chosen for Maclean's Magazine's Honour Roll. Vassanji won the inaugural Giller Prize in 1994 for The Book of Secrets. He again won the Giller Prize in 2003 for The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. He was the first writer to win the Giller Prize more than once. (In 2004, Alice Munro became the prize's second repeat winner). In 2006, When She Was Queen was shortlisted for the City of Toronto Book Award. The Assassin's Song, released in 2007, was short-listed for the 2007 Giller Prize, the Rogers Prize, and the Governor General's Prize in Canada, as well as the Crossword Prize in India.
In 2009 his travel memoir, A Place Within: Rediscovering India, won the Governor-General's Prize for nonfiction.
In 2005, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
- The Gunny Sack (1989) ISBN 0-385-66065-0
- No New Land (1991) ISBN 0-7710-8722-5
- The Book of Secrets (1994) ISBN 0-312-15068-7
- Amriika (1999) ISBN 0-7710-8725-X
- The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (2003) ISBN 0-385-65991-1
- The Assassin's Song (2007) ISBN 0-385-66351-X
- The Magic of Saida (2012) ISBN 9780385667142
- And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa (2014)
Short story collections
- A Place Within (2008)
- "[Mordecai Richler]" (2008)
- W. H. New, ed., Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. p. 1166.
- Desai, Gaurav. `Ambiguity is the driving force or the nuclear reaction behind my creativity”: An E-Conversation with M. G. Vassanji' Research in African Literatures forthcoming.
- Dan Odhiambo Ojwang, "The Pleasures of Knowing: Images of ‘Africans’ in East African Asian Literature,” English Studies in Africa 43, no. 1 (2000): 43–64.
- Amin Malik, “Ambivalent Affiliations and the Postcolonial Condition: The Fiction of M. G. Vassanji,” World Literature Today 67, no. 2 (1993): 277–282;
- Dan Odhiambo Ojwang, “Between Ancestors and Amarapurs: Immigrant Asianness in M. G. Vassanji’s Fiction,” in Re-Imagining Africa: New Critical Perspectives, eds. Sue Kossew and Diane Schwerdt (Huntington, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers, 2001): 57–80;
- Godwin Siundu, “The Unhomeliness of Home: Asian Presence and Nation Formation in M. G. Vassanji’s Works,” Africa Insight 35, no. 2 (2005): 15–25
- Neloufer de Mel, “Mediating Origins: Moyez Vassanji and the Discursivities of Migrant Identity,” in Essays on African Writing: vol 2, Contemporary Literature, ed. Abdulrazak Gurnah (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1995): 159–177
- Jeanne Delbaere, “Re-Configuring the Postcolonial Paradigm: The Fiction of M. G. Vassanji,” in Reconfigurations: Canadian Literatures and Postcolonial Identities, eds. Marc Maufort and Franca Bellarsi (Brussels: Peter Lang, 2002): 159–171.
- Brenda Cooper, “A Gunny Sack, Chants and Jingles, a Fan and a Black Trunk: The Coded Language of the Everyday in a Post-colonial African Novel,” Africa Quarterly 44, no. 3 (2004): 12–31
- Tuomas Huttunen, “M. G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack: Narrating the Migrant Identity,” in Tales of Two Cities: Essays on New Anglophone Literature, ed. John Skinner (Turku, Finland: Anglicana Turkuensia, 2000): 3–20
- Tuomas Huttunen, “M. G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack: Emplotting British, Asian and African Realities,” The Atlantic Review 3, no. 2 (2002): 56–76
- Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan, “M. G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack: A Reflection on History and the Novel,” Modern Fiction Studies 37, no. 3 (1991): 511–518
- Ashok Mohapatra, “The Paradox of Return: Origins, Home and Identity in M.G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack,” Postcolonial Text 2, no. 4 (2006): 1–21
- Rosemary Marongoly George, “`Traveling Light’: Home and the Immigrant Genre,” in The Politics of Home (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996): 171–197.
- Official Website
- M. G. Vassanji's entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia
- M.G. Vassanji Emory University, Department of English
- Interview and excerpt from The Assassin's Song, online from CBC Words at Large
- Audio interview regarding The Assassin's Song with THECOMMENTARY.CA September 2007