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The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

MG Vassanji’s expansive family saga centres on the figure of Vikram Lall, born in Kenya of Indian parents and destined to be reviled as ‘one of Africa’s most corrupt men’. In his childhood, Lall witnesses the rise of the Mau Mau and the end of British colonial rule in Kenya. His family observes events from an uneasy vantage point: forced to leave India at Partition, they are viewed as neither African nor British, inhabiting an ‘in-between world’.

At Independence, Vikram obtains a job with the Kenyan Railways and his diligence means that he swiftly rises through the ranks, to the point where he has the trust of the all-powerful Father of the Nation, Jomo Kenyatta. As a fixer of rare talent, Vikram is gradually drawn into a web of official larceny.

Vikram tells his tale in flashbacks from exile in Canada, where he was forced to flee by anti-corruption investigations and death threats. He comes to realize that, as an ordinary man trying (and failing) to do good, the two halves of his life mirror one another. His childhood attempts to comprehend the bloodshed of the Mau Mau uprising illustrate the insidious ways in which the iniquities of the adult world invade the innocence of the child. Likewise, the adult Vikram sees the hopes and dreams of freedom gradually undermined by a self-serving and greedy élite.

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is a sensitive and engaging epic which successfully melds elements of politics and family chronicle while querying the role of the individual in determining the tides of history.

New Internationalist issue 373 magazine cover This article is from the November 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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