Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Literary

The Book of Secrets

by (author) M.G. Vassanji

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Sep 2006
Literary, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 1997
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 1996
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


The Book of Secrets is a spellbinding novel of generations and the sweep of history which begins in 1988 in Dar es Salaam when the 1913 diary of a British colonial officer is found in a shopkeeper’s back room. The diary enflames the curiosity of a retired schoolteacher, Pius Fernandes, whose obsession with the stories it contains gradually connects the past with the present. Inhabiting the story is a memorable cast of characters, part of an Asian community in East Africa, whose lives and fates we follow over the course of seven decades. Rich in detail and description, M. G. Vassanji’s award-winning novel magnificently conjures setting and the realm of eras past as it explores the state of living in exile from one’s home and from oneself.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the author

M.G. Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. He attended university in the United States, where he trained as a nuclear physicist, before coming to Canada in 1978. Vassanji is the author of six novels and two collections of short stories. His work has appeared in various countries and several languages, and he has twice won the Giller Prize. His most recent novel, The Assassin’s Song, was shortlisted for both the Giller Prize and the Governor-General’s Award. He is a member of the Order of Canada and lives in Toronto.

M.G. Vassanji's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Part generational history, part detective story, part social chronicle, the novel is a ‘living tapestry to join the past to the present.’…”
–Citation from The Giller Prize Jury: Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler, and David Staines

“Vassanji captures a wide and authentic perspective that ranks with V. S. Naipaul and Graham Greene.”
The Times (U.K.)
“A vivid portrait of time and place.”
–Montreal Gazette
“A love affair with the past…an exquisite, tender, and possibly great novel.”
New Yorker

“Vassanji is one of the country’s finest storytellers.”
Quill & Quire

“Vassanji masterfully weaves an extraordinarily colorful and richly complicated carpet.…A big book in every sense.”
Toronto Star
“A testament to the almost mystical power of written words, Pius Fernandes’s search for the truth is also a celebration of storytelling.”
New York Times Book Review
“As I read this book about exiled people squeezed by war and circumstance, I thought of other novels that seem its cousins; Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter.”
–Lawrence Scanlan, Globe and Mail

“A poignant, questioning work that confirms Vassanji as one of our most thoughtful, as well as one of our more able, writers.”
Financial Post
“A work of art.…Highly recommended.”
Library Journal
“A mesmerizing and rewarding literary experience.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“From its opening page it is clear that The Book of Secrets is a story about the importance of language and writing in shaping history.…Vassanji’s prose is simple and evocative, with a light touch he recreates places and times, deploying flashes of colour with a careful attention to detail.”
Financial Times (U.K.)

“The book is lush with evocations of East African physical, cultural, and historical landscapes.…”
Publishers Weekly
“A glorious novel.…”
Law Times
“Fact and fiction are melded into a compelling narrative which transcends reality and nourishes both mind and spirit.…[Vassanji] captures both the minute ripples of individual human motivations and the broad sweep of that grim machine we call history.”
Ottawa Citizen

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Other titles by M.G. Vassanji