In the rapidly changing world we now live in, M.G. Vassanji’s whole life is an example of these changes. He happens to be a writing genius and so we can share in his amazing experiences in more than one “home”. In his newest book, he concentrates on a part of the city of Dar es Salaam where he grew up as a boy and revisits because he still loves the area.
Vassanji’s people came from Gujarat, India. Two generations before he was born, they crossed the Indian Ocean to settle in East Africa. He was born in Kenya but grew up in Tanzania. He gives an affectionate description of the Indian section of Dar es Salaam called Kariakoo which was full of Indian traders setting up business with their African neighbours. These Africans had a close family life, full of music and community celebrations. Vassanji’s own life took him abroad to study in the United States and eventually settle in Toronto where he know him from his prize-winning stories and novels.
This book gives a good description of some of the highlights of Dar es Salaam’s history, i.e. some of the story of Stanley and Livingstone; the troubling years of German missionaries in German East Africa; the revolutions of l964 when Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the island of Zanzibar gained independence from Great Britain only to suffer later from socialist austerity. But Vassanji remembers another whole aspect of Africa and is saddened when he reads only bad news from that continent. His memories are of a joyful land and this book goes a long way to show that.
Review by Anne McDougall