By the two-time winner of the Giller Prize for his novels The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall
Uhuru Street is M.G. Vassanji’s stunning book of linked stories, set within the Asian community of Dar es Salaam. With delicate strokes, and with irony and humour, Vassanji brings alive the characters who live and work in the shops and tenements of Uhuru Street; among them: Roshan Mattress, so called because of her free and easy ways; a street-wise orphan fighting for survival; a Goan dressmaker who entertains her employers with local gossip; and a servant who opens up the world for the children in his charge, until he oversteps his bounds and has to leave. As the younger generation searches for a new destiny, and the older fiercely holds on to the past, Uhuru Street resonates with the moment of moving on, of leaving the place where we have roots, knowing that things will never be the same.
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.
Excerpt: Uhuru Street (by (author) M.G. Vassanji)
Sunday afternoon languor descends over the street as usual. The day is hot but clear and a soft breeze blows bits of paper about. The street gradually empties of people and business comes to a halt. The last strains of Akashwani on the airwaves from India mingle with the smell of hot ghee, fried onions, and saffron that wafts down from people's homes. Hussein, my father-in-law, sits on the bench and stares out through the doorway, as intently as though watching some action on the pavement. In his hands are the two halves of a ball, a soft bouncy red ball, the kind kids call flesh-ball, and he squeezes the two parts together.
A short while ago the ball fell froma roof three floors up, bounced a few times on the street and pavement and landed inside the store. Hussein was upon it even before I realised it was there. Minutes later some boys came in, with a side of wood, their bat.
"Uncle, did you see a ball fall here somewhere?" they asked.
"Pigs!" yelled Hussein, jumping up from his seat in rage. "Do you want to hurt people? How many times do you have to be toldÉ?"
'We won't do it again, uncle,' pleaded a boy.
"Pigs from hell! I will show you É devils!" He brought out a large knife and sliced the ball in two. A bit of rubber fell to the ground. "Here," said the old man, "take this-" They looked at what remained of their ball in his hands and ruefully left the shop.
The boys call him "German," because, he says, he can speak German. I've heard him say two things, "Mein Herr," and "Mein Gott," which I presume are German. He was still a youth when the Germans were here, and when he's in the mood he can spin quite a yarn about those times. We all have a name here. They think I don't know they call me "Black." Because I'm dark, almost an African. They have to give me a name, and what better name than something so obvious. Black. My wife is "Baby," the whole town calls her Baby, and you have to see the rolls of blubber hanging on her to see why. She was brought up on nothing but the purest butter, proclaims her mother proudly. "Our Baby was most dear to us," says Good Kulsum, whenever I need reminding of the good fortune that has come my way. How I landed in this situation is another story. I married to attain respectability, but right now I wonder if I've not had enough of it.
Now Baby and her mother sleep after the biriyani and I wait up, the shop half closed as usual. The quiet of the Sunday afternoon has always been mine - it is nice and pleasant in the shade and the town sleeps. I sit on the armchair and read the Sunday Standard column by column, and when I've finished and solved the puzzle set for children by Uncle Jim, and noted last week's winner, I have tea and wait for the woman to bring samosas. All this peace while they sleep and snore. But not today. Today German sits with me.
Excerpt taken from the story " In the Quiet of a Sunday Afternoon."
“A sensory bouquet. The homely details of rural Indian life evoke responses from the nose, the eyes, the ears – and the heart. . . . Vassanji is a wizard with mood and atmosphere.”
“First and foremost Vassanji is a storyteller, and, like William Faulkner, he has created a fictional world that he will return to again and again.… Vivid down to the most minute detail.”
“Fascinating.…Vassanji writes smoothly and confidently.”
- Ottawa Citizen
“There is much in this volume to admire: pace, timing, economy of means, richness of effect. Uhuru Street does its work quietly and purposefully; Vassanji’s confident skill is impressive.”
–Books in Canada
Other titles by M.G. Vassanji
What You Are
A Delhi Obsession
Writers on Writing in Canada
And Home Was Kariakoo
A Memoir of East Africa
The Magic of Saida
Extraordinary Canadians: Mordecai Richler
A Penguin Lives Biography
A Place Within