The Magic of Saida

The Magic of Saida

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Giller Prize-winner M. G. Vassanji gives us a powerfully emotional novel of love and loss, of an African/Indian man who returns to the town of his birth in search of the girl he once loved--and the sense of self that has always eluded him.
Kamal Punja is a physician who has lived in Canada for the past forty years, but whom we first meet in a Tanzanian hospital. He is delirious and says he has been poisoned with hallucinogens. But when Kamal finds a curious and sympathetic ear in a local publisher, his ravings begin to reveal a tale of extraordinary pathos, complexity, and mystery.

Raised by his African mother, deserted when he was four by his Indian father, married to a woman of Indian heritage, and the father of two wholly Westernized children, Kamal had reached a stage of both undreamed-of material success and disintegrating personal ties. Then, suddenly, he "stepped off the treadmill, allowed an old regret to awaken," and set off to find the girl he had known as a child, to finally keep his promise to her that he would return.

The girl was Saida, granddaughter of a great, beloved Swahili poet. Kamal and Saida were constant companions--he teaching her English and arithmetic, she teaching him Arabic script and Swahili poetry--and in his child's mind, she was his future wife. Until, when he was eleven, his mother sent him to the capital, Dar es Salaam, to live with his father's relatives, to "become an Indian" and thus secure his future. Now Kamal is journeying back to the village he left, into the maze of his long-unresolved mixed-race identity and the nightmarish legacy of his broken promise to Saida.

At once dramatic, searching, and intelligent, The Magic of Saida moves deftly between the past and present, painting both an intimate picture of passion and betrayal and a broad canvas of political promise and failure in contemporary Africa. It is a timeless story--and a story very much of our own time.

Edition: First Edition
ISBN: 9780307961501
Branch Call Number: F Vas


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Jul 17, 2013

Good literary novel – perfect for book clubs. Interesting story of mixed-race characters in Zanzibar. Learned a great deal about life and culture in Tanzania.

gulamani Apr 11, 2013

A love story set in the context of colonialism and independence of East Africa. Also, race relations in the region well dramatized. Needs a second read to take it all in!

Oct 29, 2012

This novel sets its own pace for the reader as it weaves poetry and magic throughout the story. In addition to the story being told by Vassanji, the book is an excellent history of East Africa in the twentieth century, detailing the layering of races and religions over the base of the African population and the impact of this layering. In the end, the hero's return to Africa is most revealing in terms of his character and the consequences of his decisions. As usual, an excellent book from a wonderful author. This is a book to be reread.

debwalker Oct 12, 2012

"The Magic of Saida is the sort of novel that, upon finishing, one wants to immediately read again, to examine, to study just how Vasssanji works his narrative magic, and to allow oneself to savour it just that little bit longer." Robert J. Wiersema
Globe & Mail


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