The worlds in-between of an Asian african Writer: a postcolonial reading of selected novels of MG vassanji
Makokha, J. K. S.
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MG Vassanji has written five novels tracing the movements of Asians from South Asia in the late nineteenth century to East Africa, and then from Africa to North America in the 1960s and 1970s. The community of Asians who came to East Africa before or at the time of British imperialism has now given rise to several other generations that in popular East African discourse are known simply as the "Asians." However, these so called Asians are actually Asian Africans, children of a bicontinental heritage as is evident in the Asian African Trust Heritage, a department of history at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. In East Africa, this community inhabits a middle area, both in colour and in status, between European whites and African blacks. The attempt to make sense out of inhabiting "worlds in-between" the Black and White has in fact become a congenital theme and leitmotif in almost all genres of writings of Asian Africans from East Africa. The imaginative writings of Asian African writers such as Peter Nazareth, Jagjit Singh, and Kuldip Sondhi who wrote about the Asian African experience in East Africa in the 1960s and early 1970s serve as prominent examples. This literary agenda persists in the oeuvre of the more contemporary Vassanji, especially in our two novels of focus, The Gunny Sack and The Book of Secrets. It is argued Vassanji's community, historically and socio-politically, was strictly never a part of the Black/White (post) coloniality but a community in-between the two, the Black/White (post) coloniality but a community in-between the two, an interstitial community. In the present work, an exegesis of the two novels takes the form of a reading guided by postcolonial perspectives drawn from Homi K. Bhabha, in The Location of Culture. Being a conceptual study that relies entirely on library research, this work is guided by a comprehensive research methodology as discussed in chapter one. In chapter two the socio-historical and literary experiences of Asian Africans of East Africa have been reviewed as part of focussing the problematic of the study. This extra-literary information depicts the unique experiences of Asian Africans as an interstitial community in East Africa and provides useful perspectives for reading Vassanji's novels, The Gunny Sack and the The Book of Secrets. Chapter three argues that interstitiality is the central idea around which the plots of The Gunny Sack are built. Setting or fictional locations in this novel are viewed as part of Vassanji's strategy, underscoring Asian African interstitiality. The Book of Secrets is treated in chapter four. Nurmohammed Pipa, the quintessential Asian African, is the subject. Through him, his community's racial stereotyping is traced through historical lineage, and given both depth and meaning. Chapter five, the conclusion, gives a summary of the study. It also raises issues pertinent to future research in this area.