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The Assassin's Song by M.G. Vassanji
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The Assassin's Song

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The Assassin's Song by M.G. Vassanji
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Aug 12, 2008 | ISBN 9781400076574

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  • Aug 12, 2008 | ISBN 9781400076574

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  • Mar 25, 2009 | ISBN 9780307513557

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“A deeply affecting story, full of contemplation and mystery. . . . At once lush and precise.”—Chicago Tribune“Thought-provoking and satisfying. . . . There are echoes of Rohinton Mistry, of V. S. Naipaul, of Salman Rushdie. 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 Washington Post Book World“A resplendent novel. . . .Vassanji eloquently details the sufferings of Karsan’s family as the price of his individual freedom.”—The New Yorker“Moving. . . . A complex, multifaceted drama, one that interweaves history, religion and politics with a vibrant personal story.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Author Q&A

Q: Please talk a bit about the horrible violence that shook western India in 2002?
The violence took place in the state of Gujarat in early 2002. It followed an incident in which a train compartment carrying Hindu Nationalist activist-pilgrims caught fire and some 60 people were literally burned alive. The activist pilgrims were returning from the site of the 16th-century Babru Mosque, which had been demolished in 1993 by activists claiming it to have been an ancient Hindu site.

Following the burning of the train compartment, attributed to Muslims but never actually proved, a pogrom took place in Gujarat in which Muslim households were targetted and attacked in various places, goaded on by the right-wing Gujarat government, and encouraged by the police. The worst kind of violence imaginable took place, against women especially.

Following this violence (euphemistically called "riots") and basing its decision on the Indian Human Rights Commission, the US State department refused a visitor’s visa to the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mody.

Q: How did you decide to write about this period?
I used this violence and its terrible destruction as a point from which to bring out the history of a shrine up to its destruction.

Q: Tell us about Karsan. Does someone like Karsan exist in your life?
Not exactly like him. I’ve given him a historical background similar to where my community might have branched from. And so the Sufi (mystic) at whose graves people come to worship is based on similar holy men in my own background. Karsan’s thrill at discovering new intellectual frontiers reflects what I felt like when I came to the US (at MIT, though I’ve put him at Harvard where he can study liberal arts). His acquired agnosticism reflects mine, and his father’s denial to take Hindu or Muslim sides exclusively reflects my own attitude, and what I believe traditionally was my own people’s attitude.

Q: Did you write portions of this book while in India?
No, but I visited places–shrines, cities–which inspired it and which I used as background. I’ve just come back from Shimla, from where Karsan writes this book, and it was a thrill to see Postmaster Flat again!

Q: In The In-Between World of Vikram Lall you also explore displacement in a character. Is there a particular reason that this is a recurring theme in your work?
There is an in-betweenness about Hindu and Muslim worlds, and belonging to both. Displacement is of course at the core of my existence and that of my family and people.

Q: Are you currently writing a novel?
I am thinking about one but actually am about to complete a memoir of my travels in India over the last 14 years.

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