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The magnificent new novel from the award-winning author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (“This beautiful novel . . . is proof that fictional truth can illuminate an epoch in history like nothing else”—The Boston Globe).
In the aftermath of the brutal violence that gripped western India in 2002, Karsan Dargawalla, heir to Pirbaag—the shrine of a mysterious, medieval sufi—begins to tell the story of his family and the shrine now destroyed. His tale opens in the 1960s: young Karsan is next in line after his father to assume lordship of the Shrine of the Wanderer, and take his place as a representative of God to the multitudes who come there. But he longs to be “just ordinary”—to play cricket and be part of the exciting world he reads about in the stacks of newspapers a truck driver brings him from all across India. And when, to his utter amazement, he is accepted at Harvard, he can’t resist the opportunity to go finally “into the beating heart of the world.”
Despite his father’s epistolary attempts to keep Karsan close to traditional ways, the excitements and discoveries of his new existence in America soon prove more compelling, and after a bitter quarrel he abdicates his successorship to the ancient throne. Yet even as he succeeds in his “ordinary” life—marrying and having a son (his own “child-god”), becoming a professor in suburban British Columbia—his heritage haunts him in unexpected ways. After tragedy strikes, both in Canada and in Pirbaag, he is drawn back across thirty years of separation and silence to discover what, if anything, is left for him in India.
A story of grand historical sweep and intricate personal drama, a stunning evocation of the physical and emotional landscape of a man caught between the ancient and the modern, between legacy and discovery, between the most daunting filial obligation and the most undeniable personal yearning—The Assassin’s Song is a heartbreaking ballad of a life irrevocably changed.
“A deeply affecting story, full of contemplation and mystery . . . Vassanji explores the idea of belonging through the lens of religious identification, placing his characters in situations that force them to choose a faith and a place even when they refuse to adhere to the us-versus-them mentality . . . The chapters set in the thirteenth century are rich in historical detail, and the prose is at once lush and precise . . . Vassanji has given us an exceedingly relevant novel that should be required reading in our divided times.
—Laila Lalami, Chicago Tribune
“A beautiful book, not to mention brave . . . M. G. Vassanji’s brilliant new novel, The Assassin’s Song, is nothing if not timely. But this novel also feels timeless, partly because of the vast history it spans . . . The reader develops an extraordinary fondness for Karsan . . . The novel not only contains scriptural precepts, divine songs and sacred tales, it also constitutes a powerful work of the spirit, a kind of contemporary Holy Book . . . At a time when fanatical fundamentalism in both East and West derides the idea of gentle, simple faith, Vassanji confirms the significance of the spirit–and, honestly, the soul is altered.”
—Donna Bailey Nurse, Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“Intertwining a 700-year-old family epic with a mystical mystery, Vassanji crafts an intense and haunting work of fiction . . . A journey of discovery no appreciative reader should miss.”
—Terry Hong, Christian Science Monitor
“Thought-provoking and satisfying . . . There are echoes of Rohinton Mistry in Vassanji’s lampooning of post-independent India’s frenetic nationalism, of V. S. Naipaul in the insistence that solutions can arrive only from a thorough understanding of the past, of Salman Rushdie in the disclosure of a history composed of personal narratives and myths. But the lyricism of Karsan’s contemplations, the careful evocation of place, the writer’s obvious warmth for his characters, the sense of compassion layered into the story–these are all Vassanji’s . . . The novel unfolds gracefully, with interlaced descriptions that cut across the centuries . . . A typical immigrant novel would probably end with its protagonist’s material achievements balanced by cultural losses, but Vassanji’s purpose here is more ambitious and intricate. [He] infuses poignancy into Karsan’s recognition that, after all his struggles, he has become a version of his father.”
—Rabindranath Maharaj, Washington Post Book World
“With its sweeping historical themes and finely drawn details, this novel may remind readers of the work of such distinguished writers as Rohinton Mistry. Vassanji deserves to be better known to American readers. Highly recommended.”
—Leslie Patterson, Library Journal
“A stunning portrait of a man struggling with the burdens and the joys of filial and religious obligation . . . The Assassin’s Song beautifully renders the struggle between the spiritual and the secular with nuance and skill.”
—Lauren Bufferd, Bookpage
“A resplendent novel . . . Vassanji eloquently details the sufferings of Karsan’s family as the price of his individual freedom, but suggests that this abandonment was necessary, and that tradition, in the face of India’s ‘ancient animosities,’ must be engaged with critically and in the context of the wider world.”
—The New Yorker
“Vassanji writes with bedazzling charm and shrewd insight as he loops back in time to tell the spellbinding tale of Nur Fazal in parallel with the tragic journey of Karsan. As the many-faceted story unfolds, Vassanji subtly and cannily negotiates the gap between spirituality and religious fundamentalism, traces the arduous path to enlightenment, and illuminates the continuity of human experience. Richly detailed and socially astute, this is an exceptionally sensitive novel of violent conflicts and private suffering, emotional verity and metaphysical yearning.
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)
“A richly imagined novel . . . Vassanji dramatizes experiences of exile and cultural conflict in parallel narratives set centuries apart, whose similarities are subtly, patiently disclosed . . . The novel’s slowly gathering power cannot be denied . . . [Vassanji is] an intelligent and inventive storyteller.”
“The tension between India’s centuries-old spiritual traditions and contemporary religious militancy drives this memorable, melancholy family saga . . . Shifts in time and perspective (including flashes of the shrine’s early history) heighten Vassanji’s evocative depiction of India’s ongoing postcolonial tumult, mournfully personalized by the fate of the fractured family at the novel’s heart.”