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M.G. Vassanji

M. G. Vassanji was born in Nairobi, Kenya but raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to Canada in 1978. Vassanji is the founding editor of the literary magazine The Toronto South Asian Review. Renamed and with a broader scope as The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad, the magazine gave voice to immigrant Canadians. TSAR Publications began publishing monographs in 1985 and changed its name in 2015 to Mawenzi House Publishers. Vassanji and his family reside in Toronto. In February, 2005, Vassanji was named a Member of the Order of Canada for his contribution to arts/writing. Vassanji was the winner of the 2015 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize for contribution to the arts in Canada.



Toronto: M&S, 1999.
Toronto: M&S, 2000. (Pbk. ed.)
PS8593.A87 A47 1999

Publisher’s Synopsis (M&S ,1999)

[This is] a remarkable novel of personal and political awakening that spans three decades and explores the eternal quest for home. It is a quintessentially North American novel, told from the point of view of a man from Dar es Salaam, East Africa.
In 1968, Ramji, a student, arrives in an America far different from the one he dreamed about, one caught up in anti-war demonstrations, revolutionary lifestyles, and spiritual quests. As he gradually grows apart from his community of foreign students, Ramji finds himself pulled by the tumultuous currents of the times … . Much later, with his marriage faltering, and living a suburban life in a changed America, he meets a young woman from Zanzibar, and feels that a different, more authentic life is possible — until a mysterious visitor from Ramji’s past arrives in their midst.


The Assassin’s Song

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2007.
PS8593 .A87 A88 2007

Publisher’s Synopsis (from its website)

M.G. Vassanji’s magnificent new novel provides further proof of his unique, wide ranging and profound genius. The Assassin’s Song is a shining study of the conflict between ancient loyalties and modern desires, a conflict that creates turmoil the world over – and it is at once an intimate portrait of one man’s painful struggle to hold the earthly and the spiritual in balance.
In The Assassin’s Song, Karsan Dargawalla tells the story of the medieval Sufi shrine of Pirbaag, and his betrayal of its legacy. But Karsan’s conflicted attempt to settle accounts quickly blossoms into a layered tale that spans centuries: from the mysterious Nur Fazal’s spiritual journeys through thirteenth century India, to his shrine’s eventual destruction in the horrifying “riots” of 2002.

Awards and Honours

2007 Governor General’s Literary Award–English–Fiction (Shortlist)
2007 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (Finalist)
2007 Giller Prize (Shortlist)


The Book of Secrets

Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
PS8593 .A87 B66 1994

London: Picador, 1996.
New York: Picador USA, 1996.
New York: Picador USA, 1997 (Pbk. ed.)
Toronto: M&S. (Trade pbk. ed.)

Publisher’s Synopsis (McClelland and Stewart, 1994)

The Book of Secrets is a spellbinding novel of generations, which begins in 1988 in Dar es Salaam when the 1913 diary of a British colonial administrator is found in a shopkeeper’s backroom. The diary enflames the curiosity of retired schoolteacher Pius Fernandes, and his exploration of the stories it contains gradually connects the past with the present.

Awards and Honours

1994 Giller Prize (Winner)
1994 F.G. Bressani Prize (Winner)

Elvis, Raja Stories book cover

Fiction (Short stories)

Elvis, Raja: Stories

New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2006.
SEE ALSO the Canadian version: When She was Queen

Publisher’s Synopsis (From its website)

With the assurance, the mastery of vivid detail, and the ear for the nuances of the voice that have garnered him such admiration, Vassanji weaves twelve haunting tales of lives transplanted, of the traumas small and large of migration, of the bitterness of memory and the unexpected consequences of hope. Meeting his college friend Rusty after years, Diamond is faced once again with a past he had chosen to outgrow and forget. Haunted by the memory of his wife’s betrayal, he finds himself trapped in Rusty’s world, his shrine to Elvis. As he struggles to escape from this unnatural prison, Diamond finds help from an unexpected ally . . . In ‘When She Was Queen’ a young man questions his mother about a rumour that has circulated amongst his older siblings for years: that their father once lost their mother in a poker game. According to the rumour, their mother spent a night in the bed of a local magnate. In his quest to comprehend the implications of this rumour, the narrator uncovers an even darker secret. A young African-born Indian visits his ancestral village in drought-stricken Gujarat in search of a wife, and discovers instead an unexpected destiny in ‘The Expected One’. Negotiating between her past and her present in ‘Her Two Husbands’, the widow of a university professor finds herself increasingly a prisoner of the edicts of her new husband’s spiritual advisor. On Halloween night an insulted man lays bare his horrifying plan of revenge in ‘Is It Still October’. And in ‘She, with Bill and George’ a young Indian woman forms unlikely bonds with two men— one American, the other Masai— in 1970s Tanzania that reverberate through her life. Quiet and composed, penetrating and startling, Elvis, Raja: Stories is a portrait of an increasingly modern condition, of lives caught in our swiftly changing, often contradictory world.


The Gunny Sack

Oxford: Heinemann, 1989.
PS8593 .A87 G86 1989

Publisher’s Synopsis

The novel is both the story of one extended family’s arrival and existence in East Africa as well as a repository for the collective memory and oral history of many other African Asians. As one of the first African Asian novels of its kind, The Gunny Sack tells a tale deeply committed to both traditions and to the future of contemporary Africa.

Awards and Honours

1990 Commonwealth Book Prize -Regional Prize: Caribbean and Canada-Best First Book (Winner).


The In-Between Life of Vikram Lall

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2003.
PS8593 .A97 I5 2003

Publisher’s Synopsis

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 guerilla war challenges British rule. …

We follow Vic from the changing Africa of the fifties, to the sixties– a time that holds immense promise. But when that hope is betrayed by the corruption, fear and repression of the seventies and eighties, Vic finds himself drawn into the official orbit of graft and power-brokering. …

Awards and Honours

2003 Giller Prize (Winner)
2004 Commonwealth Book Prize –Best Book (Caribbean and Canada Region)(Nominated)
2004 Libris Award – Fiction Book of the Year (Canadian Booksellers Association)(Nominated)
2004 Torgi Literary Awards for Books in Alternative Formats (CNIB-Produced Fiction)(Nominated)
2004 Trillium Book Award–English. (Nominated)

The Magic of Saida book cover


The Magic of Saida

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2012.
PS8593 .A87 M33 2012

Publisher’s Synopsis (from its website)

The Magic of Saida tells the haunting story of Kamal, a successful Canadian doctor who, in middle age and after decades in North America, decides to return to his homeland of East Africa to find his childhood sweetheart, Saida. Kamal’s journey is motivated by a combination of guilt, hope, and the desire to unravel the mysteries of his childhood–mysteries compounded by the fact that Kamal is the son of an absent Indian father from a well-to-do family and a Swahili African mother of slave ancestry. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch Kamal’s early years in the ancient coastal town of Kilwa, where he grows up in a world of poverty but also of poetry, sustained by his friendship with the magical Saida.


No New Land: A Novel

Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1997.
PS8593 .A87 N6 1997

Publisher’s Synopsis (M&S, 1997)

Nurdin Lalani and his family, Asian immigrants from Africa, have come to the Toronto suburb of Don Mills only to find that the old world and its values pursue them. A genial orderly at a downtown hospital, he has been accused of sexually assaulting a girl. Although he is innocent, traditional propriety prompts him to question the purity of his own thoughts. … Vassanji is a keen observer of lives caught between one world and another.



Nostalgia: A Novel

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2016.
PS8593 .A87 N68 2016

Publisher’s Synopsis

From one of Canada’s most celebrated writers, two-time Giller Prize winner Moyez Vassanji, comes a taut, ingenuous and dynamic novel about a future where eternal life is possible, and identities can be chosen.


Uhuru Street: Short Stories

Toronto: M&S, 1992.
PS8593 .A87 U5 1992

Publisher’s Synopsis

In this unique collection of linked stories, the curtain is drawn back to reveal life in the Asian community of Dar es Salaam, a port city on the east coast of Africa. … The stories take us from the late colonial days of the 1950s through to the 1980s when many of the characters have moved away from the confines of their community …

Awards and Honours

The story “In the Quiet of a Sunday Afternoon” appeared in The Toronto South Asian Review and was shortlisted for the first annual awarding of The Journey Prize. It appeared in The Journey Prize Anthology: The Best Short Fiction From Canada’s Literary Journals (Toronto: M&S, 1989).

Fiction (Short stories)

When She Was Queen

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2005.
PS8593 .A87 W44 2005
SEE ALSO the Indian version: Elvis, Raja: Stories

Publisher’s Synopsis

[A]n extraordinary collection of twelve stories that range in setting from newly independent East Africa to contemporary Toronto, from Partition-era India to Midwest America.


Passages: Welcome Home to Canada

PS8081 .P39 2002

Vassanji, M.G. “Canada and Me: Finding Ourselves.” In Passages: Welcome Home to Canada. Initiated by Westwood Creative Artists and the Dominion Institute. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2002.

Contributors: Michelle Berry • Ying Chen • Brian D. Johnson • Dany Laferriere • Alberto Manguel • Anna Porter • Nino Ricci • Shyam Selvadurai • M. G. Vassanji • Ken Wiwa • Moses Znaimer

This book grew out of the Dominion Institute’s Memory Project. Find out more at thememoryproject website.


The Monkey King and Other Stories

PS8329 .M65 1995

Vassanji, M.G.. “The Cycle of Revenge.” In The Monkey King and Other Stories, edited by Griffin Ondaatje. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1995.


Tok. Book 5

PS8237 .T6 T54 2010

Vassanji, M.G. “Death at Number Sixty-nine.” In Tok. Book 5, edited by Helen Walsh. Toronto: Zephyr Press, 2010, 151-157.


A Meeting of Streams: South Asian Canadian Literature. (Edited by M.G. Vassanji)

Toronto: TSAR Publications, 1985.
PS8089.5 .S68 M44 1985

“This volume of articles and essays grew out of the proceedings of the Conference on South Asian Canadian Literature on October 1-3, 1983, organized by the Toronto South Asian review”–Acknowledgements.

Non-fiction (Biography)

Mordecai Richler

Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009.
PS8535 .I27 Z85 2009

And Home Was Kariakoo book cover

Non-fiction (Memoir/Travel)

And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
PS8593 .A87 Z462 2014

Awards and Honours

2015 RBC Taylor Prize (Finalist)

Publisher’s Synopsis

Part travelogue, part memoir, and part history-rarely-told, here is a powerful and timely portrait of a constantly evolving land. From a description of Zanzibar and its evolution to a visit to a slave-market town at Lake Tanganyika; from an encounter with a witchdoctor in an old coastal village to memories of his own childhood in the streets of Dar es Salaam and the suburbs of Nairobi, Vassanji combines brilliant prose, thoughtful and candid observation, and a lifetime of revisiting and reassessing the continent that molded him–and, as we discover when we follow the journeys that became this book, shapes him still.

Non-fiction (Travel/History)

A Place Within: Rediscovering India

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2008.
PS8593 .A87 Z47 2008

Awards and Honours

2009 Governor General’s Literary Award, Non-fiction, English Language (Winner)

Publisher’s Synopsis

M.G. Vassanji’s grandparents went to Africa from India. An African by birth, Vassanji’s relationship to India in childhood had been complex and contradictory, fed by legends and stories. Now, in this powerfully moving tale of personal discovery, Vassanji explores his connection to the land that for so long was a place only of the imagination.


Selected Criticism and Interpretation

Genetsch, Martin. The Texture of Identity: The Fiction of MG Vassanji, Neil Bissoondath, and Rohinton Mistry. Toronto: TSAR, 2008.
PS8089.5 .S68 G45 2007

Harting, Heike Helene. “Performative Metaphors in Caribbean and Ethnic Canadian Writing” Ph.D. diss., University of Victoria, 2000.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Kandiuk, Mary. “M. G. Vassanji.” In Caribbean and South Asian Writers in Canada: A Bibliography of Their Works and of English-language Criticism. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007, 211-218.
PS8089.5 .C37 K36 2007

Makokha, Justus Siboe. Reading M.G. Vassanji: A Contextual Approach to Asian African Fiction. Berlin: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009.
PS8593 .A87 Z359 2009

Makokha, Justus Kizito Siboe. The Worlds in Between of an Asian African Writer: A Post-colonial Reading of Selected Novels of M.G. Vassanji. Nairobi: Kenyatta University, 2006. (M.A. Thesis)

Moss, Laura. “”The Multinational Song”: M.G. Vassanji’s Work in Canadian Context,” chap. in Confluences 2: Essays on the New Canadian Literature, ed. by Nurjehan Aziz. Toronto: Mawenzi House, 2017, pp. 72-82.
PS8117 .C66 2017

Mukherjee, Arun. “‘M G Vassanji’s ‘Uhuru Street’.” In Oppositional Aesthetics: Readings from a Hyphenated Space. Toronto: TSAR, 1994, 164-168.
PS8089.5 .M5 M85 1994

Mukherjee, Arun. “‘Writing from a Hard Place: The African Fiction of M G Vassanji.” In Oppositional Aesthetics: Readings from a Hyphenated Space. Toronto: TSAR, 1994, 169-178.
PS8089.5 .M5 M85 1994

Narula, Devika Khanna. South Asian Diaspora: Summer Blossoms in Winter Gardens: History, Memory and Identity in Canadian Fiction. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2005. (Includes one chapter focusing on The Gunny Sack, and another focusing on The Book of Secrets)
PS8089.5 .S68 N37 2005

Rahemtullah, Omme-Salma. “Interrogating “Indianness”: Identity and Diasporic Consciousness Among South Asian Twice Migrants in Canada.” M.A. diss., Ryerson University, 2007.
FC106 .S66 R34 2007
Ryerson Electronic-book collection and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses

Roy, Hareshwar. “No New Land: A Story of Quest for Identity.” In Indian Diasporic Literature: Text, Context and Interpretation, ed. Shalini Dube, 57-62. New Delhi: Shree Publishers, 2009.
PK5416 .I53 2009

Salaye, Narvadha. “Marginalisation and the Construction of South-Asian Identity in Novels by Rohinton Mistry, Shyam Selvadurai and Moyez Vassanji.” M.A. diss., Université de Sherbrooke, 2002.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Samajdar, Saunak. “Rooting the Routes: Memory as the Ontology of the Expatriate in Vassanji’s Writings.” In The Expatriate Indian Writing in English. Vol. 1, ed. T. Vinoda and P. Shailaja, 2006, 197-208.
PR9489.6 .E96 2006 v.1

Sayed, Asma, ed.  M. G. Vassanji: Essays on his Works.  Toronto: Guernica, 2014.
PS8593 .A87 Z348 2014

Stump, Janet L. “Narrative Space and Place: Identity on the Move” M.A. diss., University of Alaska Anchorage, 2002.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses


M.G. Vassanji’s personal website

Publisher Doubleday Canada

Publisher McClelland & Stewart

Publisher Penguin Books India

Publisher  Mawenzi House (formerly TSAR)

Publisher Random House of Canada

Reading guide to The Assassin’s Song

Reading guide to The In-between World of Vikram Lall

Reading guide for Uhuru Street