My rating: 4.5/5 stars
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Thank you Brie of Eat Books for giving me a copy of this book.
The Magic of Saida tells the haunting story of Kamal, a successful Canadian doctor who, in middle age and after decades in North America, decides to return to his homeland of East Africa to find his childhood sweetheart, Saida. Kamal’s journey is motivated by a combination of guilt, hope, and the desire to unravel the mysteries of his childhood–mysteries compounded by the fact that Kamal is the son of an absent Indian father from a well-to-do family and a Swahili African mother of slave ancestry. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch Kamal’s early years in the ancient coastal town of Kilwa, where he grows up in a world of poverty but also of poetry, sustained by his friendship with the magical Saida.
This world abruptly ends when Kamal is sent away by his mother to live with his father’s family in the city. There, the academically gifted boy grows up as a “dark Indian,” eventually going to university and departing for Canada. Left behind to her traditional fate is Saida, now a beautiful young woman. Decades later, Kamal’s guilt pulls him back to Kilwa . . . where we discovers what happened to Saida during a harrowing night of sinister rites. This complex, revelatory, sweeping and shocking book, is a towering testament to the magical literary powers of M.G. Vassanji.
This book humbled me, repeatedly.
When I read the blurb and saw “East Africa,” I thought, great! I just did a bunch of research on East African culture (for work,) so I am gonna get ALL the cultural references. I was hardly past the first page when I realized that, um, no. First of all, my research was on Somalia and Ethiopia, and East Africa encompasses way more than just those countries. Continue reading