Saturday, April 01, 2006

When She Was Queen by M G Vassanji

Category: Fiction - Short Stories (single author)
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Pub Date: October 2005

An indecent proposal from Dar Es Salaam, Elvis making an appearance at a seance conducted by an Indian family, a woman with two husbands, an accidental prophet, a woman who spits on a corpse at his funeral...this ultra-eclectic mix of curiosities makes up MG Vassanji's new book of short stories, "When She Was Queen".

Variously located in Dar es salaam, Kenya, Toronto,India, Pakistan and the American Midwest these twelve, delightfully told short stories by prominent Canadian writer, M G Vassanji, portray characters and emotions of a diasporic community from East Africa caught between home and exile, the ancient and the modern, the spiritual and the religious world.

With each story averaging between 10-20 pages, this is a great book to pick up when time is a luxury. It is also the perfect "bag book" - something to read on the subway or between appointments or while you wait in the car park to pick up your kids from school. This is a particularly good book if you want to know more about the Ismaili ( الإسماعيليوcommunity in Toronto - their history, customs. There is a particularly lovely story called "The Trouble With Tea" which describes a beautiful ritual the Ismaili Muslims use to start the day: no matter the weather, they congregate at the mosque at 4:00am every morning for 20 mins of meditation. An Ismaili friend told me that this is when the veil between heaven and earth is the thinnest,making this one of the most powerful times to have communion with the Universe. She also pointed out a verse from the Turkish poet, Rumi which alludes to this custom:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want; Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep.

  • A little book with some very powerful stories - try not to miss this one!

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