01 Jun / Amriika by M.G. Vassanji [in aMagazine: Inside Asian America]
The premise of this disappointing novel revolves around Ramji, who, by the time he arrives in the U.S. in 1968 from his home in Dar es Salaam, East Africa (now Tanzania), he is already doubly displaced. As the novel unfolds, it, too, struggles with a dual identity that is never resolved. On the one hand, the story is about a young foreign student who becomes politically aware in college, then marries and settles for suburbia, goes through a mid-life crisis, finds his soulmate in a younger woman and gives up everything to live his life of free love. On the other, the work is a political treatise on taking action, pursuing your beliefs and not betraying your fellow warriors. And never the twain shall meet. While the exposure to the Indian diaspora was interesting – I had no prior knowledge of the East African Indian community– it was, alas, not enough to make Amriika a literary success.
FYI … Vassanji’s later The In-Between Life of Vikram Lall (2004) is actually a far superior choice.
Tidbit: Vassanji was a guest at SALTAF 2005 (South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival), a much-anticipated, highly-attended annual fall event sponsored by the Smithsonian APA Program and NetSAP-DC.