When memories come calling
The Magic of Saida
With The Magic of Saida, MG Vassanji has taken yet another plunge into past, the cloistered part of our existence, ever eager to poke its ugly (beautiful) head. This is Vassanji’s seventh novel and like his other works, which comprise six novels, two works of non fiction and two collections of short fiction, this is also a richly nuanced perception of history and identity. There are varied layers to Vassanji’s narrative in The Magic of Saida; a narrative neither incongruous nor discordant, which makes poignant revelations of the past in prose so evocative, yet so restrained.
Kamla Punja is the protagonist of the novel haunted by memories of his past; a past embodied by his childhood friend and sweetheart Saida, whose “resonating echo” pulls him back to his birthplace, Kilwa, a village on the coast of Tanzania. He embarks “on a Quixotic, hopeless quest”, partly fuelled by his love for Saida and partly driven by his guilt for abandoning her. Born to a Gujarati trader, who leaves him when he was just a child, and a mother descended from slaves, Kamal grows up with a fractured identity. He is “an Indian more African than all” the “Africans walking about. And a better Indian than all the “Banyani shopkeepers”.
The novel opens shrouded in mystery, with a delirious
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