Review: The Book of Secrets, by M.G. Vassanji

The Book of SecretsThe Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Vassanji’s novel, The Book of Secrets, which was the recipient of the first Giller Prize, is a complex saga revolving around a diary kept by an Assistant District Commissioner in the fictitious town of Kikono, situated near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, set around the time of WWI.

The diary isn’t so much a book of secrets. Rather, it is the secrets which are kept by the people associated with the diary, and the tragedy their secrets foment.

The writing is spare, what might be termed lean, yet it is that spare quality which lends a sense of penury and pain to the narrative. This is not a story of happy endings. This is a story about madness and compulsion, about the very worst of human nature, and into that darkness Vassanji creates a twisting, sometimes confusing narrative which flows from person to person as the diary is handed off, sometimes part of an occult shrine, sometimes forgotten and later unearthed to the surprise and sorrow of the next generation.

There are conversations in the narrative which are never spoken (secrets), and there are prejudices held and never revealed (more secrets), and crimes committed and entombed in memory (yet even more secrets). Layers upon layers of misery.

Not for the faint of heart. Not an easy read. Not a lazy afternoon in the hammock kind of fiction. But it is worth your time and attention.

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