His name was Kamal Punja – half Indian, half African. He was born in a town south of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania on the east coast of Africa. His father, the Indian, deserted him as a baby to return to India. His mother brought him up with a close friend who had a daughter called Saida. Kamal and Saida became close and lasting friends, in fact he loved her all his life.
The book gives a good look at many aspects of African life: the changes when the Germans colonized the country; the magic and mystique of Saida’s grandfather, a famous poet. Kamal turned out to be a clever student who went to Makerere University and became a doctor. By this time he had a girlfriend who urged him to accept a position in Canada. They both settled in Edmonton where he was highly successful in medicine, and had two children.
The Magic of Saida tells the story of what was missing. He returns to Africa in search of Saida, and early love and memories. The result is tumultuous. With our world turning all colours, in all places, Vassanji gives a riveting picture of what the chopping and changing feels like. He is an Indian himself who now lives in Toronto. He has written six novels, which have won the Giller Prize twice as well as a series of other prizes.
Review by Anne McDougall