M. G. Vassanji

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M. G. Vassanji
BornMoyez G. Vassanji
30 May 1950 (1950-05-30) (age 70)
Kakuma, Kenya
Occupationnovelist and editor, academic
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania,
Genrenovels, short stories, memoir, and a biography

Moyez G. Vassanji, CM (born 30 May 1950) is a Canadian novelist and editor, who writes under the name M. G. Vassanji.[1][2] Vassanji's work is known throughout North America, and in Africa, and South Asia, and has been translated into several languages. As of 2019, he has published nine novels, as well as a two collection of short fiction and two nonfiction books. Vassanji's writings, which have received considerable critical acclaim, often focus on issues of migration, diaspora, citizenship, gender and ethnicity.[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

M. G. Vassanji was born in Kakuma, Kenya to Indian immigrants and raised in Tanganika (now Tanzania).[5] 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 Vassanji was a research associate at the University of Toronto. During this period he developed an 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. Between 1989 and 2012, Vassanji published six novels, two collections of short stories, a memoir of his travels in India, and a biography of Mordecai Richler.

In 1989, after the publication of his first novel, The Gunny Sack,[6][7] Vassanji was invited to spend a season at the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa. The Gunny Sack won a regional Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1990.

Vassanji won the inaugural Giller Prize in 1994 for The Book of Secrets. That year, he won the Harbourfront Festival Prize in recognition of his "achievement in and contribution to the world of letters." Hee was also one of twelve Canadians chosen for Maclean's Magazine's Honour Roll.

In 1996 he was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla, India.

He again won the Giller Prize in 2003 for The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, the first writer to win this prize twice.[8] In 2005, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

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. He has also been awarded the Commonwealth Regional Prize (Africa).

His novel The Magic of Saida, set in Tanzania, was published in Canada in 2012, and in 2014 he published his memoirs, Home Was Kariakoo, based on his childhood in East Africa.[8] and in 2016 he published another novel, Nostalgia.[9]. In 2019, his ninth novel A Delhi Obsession was published to wide acclaim.

He is a member of the Order of Canada and has been awarded several honorary doctorates. In 2016, he received the Molson Prize.


Vassanji's works have been extensively reviewed by literary critics and analyzed for their sociological context.[10][11][12] The focus of his writing 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.[13][14] Vassanji looks at the relations between the Indian community, the native Africans and the colonial administration.[15] 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 writes about the effects of history and the interaction between personal and public histories, including folk and colonial history.[16] Vassanji's narratives follow the personal histories of his main characters; the historical perspective provided often leaves mysteries unsolved. The colonial history of Kenya and Tanzania serves as the backdrop for much of his work;[17] in the Assassin's Song, however, he tackles Indian folk culture and myths.



  • 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
  • Nostalgia (2016) ISBN 978-0385667166[18]
  • A Delhi Obsession (2019)

Short story collections[edit]

  • Uhuru Street (1992) inspired by Naipaul's Miguel Street.
  • When She Was Queen (2005)

Non-fiction collections[edit]

  • A Place Within (2008)
  • Extraordinary Canadians: Mordecai Richler (2008)
  • And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa (2014)


  1. ^ W. H. New, ed., Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. p. 1166.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ James, Jamie (1 April 2000). "The Toronto Circle". The Atlantic.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Charles Foran. "M.G. Vassanji travels back to Tanzania". Maclean's, October 19, 2014
  9. ^ Philip Marchand. "Don't look back: Nostalgia can be fatal in M.G. Vassanji's near future-set novel". National Post, December 14, 2016
  10. ^ Amin Malik, "Ambivalent Affiliations and the Postcolonial Condition: The Fiction of M. G. Vassanji," World Literature Today 67, no. 2 (1993): 277–282;
  11. ^ 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;
  12. ^ Tuomas Huttunen, "M. G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack: Emplotting British, Asian and African Realities," The Atlantic Review 3, no. 2 (2002): 56–76
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ Rosemary Marongoly George, "`Traveling Light’: Home and the Immigrant Genre," in The Politics of Home (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996): 171–197.
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Zane Schwartz. "M.G. Vassanji delivers a dystopian story". Maclean's, October 1, 2016

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