Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pub Date: August 21, 2007
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Imagine coming into the world with your destiny already shaped for you, not by God, but by man. Imagine being told you cannot be a doctor, a teacher or a lawyer, but that you have to be a spiritual leader whether your heart wants to or not.
Imagine being so good at cricket that one of your country's best coaches wants to coach you for free, but you're not allowed because your destiny does not lie in sport but in saving souls. What kind of burden is that for a child to bear? And yet it happens all the time. In Nepal you have the kumaris (little girls selected to be incarnations of the goddess Durga); in Tibet, Dalai Lama's successor is a young boy and in certain Sufi- Ismaeli communities the spiritual guardianship is passed down from father to son.
Karsan Dargawalla, our protoganist, is heir to the 700 year old Pirbaag Shirne which is the resting place of a mysterious, medieval Sufi known as Nur Fazal. Nur Fazal apparently came to India in the 13th century while running away from the Mongolian warriors and was given shelter by the Hindu King of Gujarat at the time.
The story opens in 2002 with Karsan returning to his childhood home in Gujarat after the Hindu-Muslim riots where thousands of Muslims died. He has returned to write a history of his ancestors. In flashbacks we learn about his childhood and how he escapes and defies his destiny by moving to Harvard, where he renounces his legacy as spiritual heir of Pirbaag and lives the life of a regular person. Interspersed with his story are vignettes of the 13th century Sufi mystic, how he came to be in India and a lot about Sufism as well.
This is not hyperbole, MG Vassanji has created a masterpiece. The Dargawalla family is at the crossroads of several interconnected strands of history, mythology and contemporary politics, which allows for the author to take the reader through (albeit fleetingly) many significant moments of Indian history with a particularly poignant, moving description of the Gujarat riots which forms the nucleus of this novel.
As I read, Icould not help but wonder why MG Vassanji is not a bigger name in India and in the rest of the world. He is one of Canada's most celebrated writers ( two-time winner of the Giller Prize for fiction) and almost as well-known in this country as Rohinton Mistry and yet, very few people outside of Canada have heard his name.
According to the author, "The Assassin's Song" is not based on any real mystic, but inspired by the arrival of mystics known as pirs, in India around the 13th century. The pirs practice of worship was based on no single affiliation and both Hindus and Muslims would count themselves as followers. At Pirbaag which is where the story is based, mornings began with bhajans, temple bells and the call for prayer from an adjacent mosque. The followers cremated their dead (Hindu) and then raised graves over their ashes (Muslim). In this way they seem to have borrowed equally from both, the Hindu and Muslim traditions.
M G Vassanji has brought to life a world that very few of us know much about and so I count myself lucky to have been able to enter this world through his writing.
Vassanji is a very enjoyable writer, not so much for the beauty of his prose but for the pearls of wisdom and simple truths that dot the pages of his books, "The Assassin's Song" is no exception.
M.G. Vassanji has won the Giller Prize twice, for The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (2003) and The Book of Secrets (1994).Will he be third time lucky? I think he will!
Category: Family & Relationships - Parenting; Psychology & Psychiatry - Adolescent Psychology
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: June 26, 2007
Price: $32.00 Visit the official Website!
Wendy Shalit, 23, author of "Girls Gone Mild", has succeeded in convincing me that if you're the mother of a young girl ( I have two) by the age of 6 she's going to want a "Babyz Nite Out" doll garbed in fishnet stockings and a hot-pink micro-mini and aim to ape her. By age 10, she'll be wanting to wear a thong and at 13, she will be greeting her friends with the affectionate (not to my ears), "Hi, Slut!" and by 16 will be having "unwanted" sex. Unwanted because, according to studies Ms. Shalit has read, young girls are having sex not because they are enjoying doing it,but because it's considered good to be bad.
All is not hopeless however, Shalit also tells us that some young women are sounding out a rebel yell against popular culture, reclaiming their self-respect and self-worth and are returning to modesty. She also wants us to know that many of our young women are engaged in a sexual revolution and choosing to stay virgins until Prince Charming comes along.
While it is reassuring to hear that young women are thumbing their noses at those companies wanting to sell them sleazy clothing, do you believe that the return to modesty is indeed a movement or are things only going to get worse before they get better? I happen to think that our society is too deeply immersed in the culture of hypersexuality...even magazines and clothing stores catering to our preteens cannot seem to help themselves. I looked at the latest issue of "Cosmo Girl" (for 12-17 year olds) and there is a detailed "kissing guide" in the issue. I'm no prude, OK, but do you really want your 13-year old to learn how to make her lips the ones he'll never forget!?!
And what do you think of the new reality show "Kid Nation" on CBS?
40 Kids have 40 days to build a brave new world without adults to help or hinder their efforts. Can they do it? These Kids, ages 8-15, will turn a ghost town into their new home. They will cook their own meals, clean their own outhouses, haul their own water and even run their own businesses including the old town saloon (root beer only). Through it all, they'll cope with regular childhood emotions and situations: homesickness, peer pressure and the urge to break every rule they've ever known.
Is childhood no longer in fashion? Why do we as a society feel compelled to push our kids in adulthood before they are ready?
And now, onto the winner of last week's book giveaway "The End of the Alphabet". My daughter picked Pour of Tor's name out of the hat. Congratulations, Pour of Tor, please send me your address and I'll make sure to have your book in the mail before the end of the week.
Thanks to everyone that played. There will be more book giveaways in the future, so please continue to watch this space!