Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top 60 Novels of 2000-2009 Countdown, No. 5

The Assassin's Song by M. G. Vassanji

I wrote this for, and I'm copying it here:

Having read several textbooks in library science and young adult novels over the past few months, my memory turns eagerly back to The Assassin’s Song by M. G. Vassanji, which I read last year.

This book mixes the yearnings of a boy growing up at a Sufi shrine, where his father is treated partly as prophet and partly as priest, with the story of the founder of the shrine, a traveling Sufi saint whose spiritual powers resonate to this day. Vassanji also does a masterful job mapping the ongoing religious struggles among Hindu, Sufi, Muslim and Christian adherents. But beyond that, the novel is one of the best explorations of the dynamics between father and son and between brothers that I’ve encountered, in part because the novel resonates so deeply with my own experience as a son and a brother — that is, if you can compare my father’s tin-can factory to a shrine in India. Also, both the lead character, Karsan, and I share the same middle name — Light (the text states that Nur means “light”). Vassanji follows the lead character through triumphs and devastations as he moves from the shrine in India to Harvard to adulthood in Canada. But in the end, all sons must confront or accept, in some way, the spiritual roots our fathers planted.

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