The Magic of Saida

The Magic of Saida tells the haunting story of Kamal, a successful Canadian doctor who, in middle age and after decades in North America, decides to return to his homeland of East Africa to find his childhood sweetheart, Saida. Kamal’s journey is motivated by a combination of guilt, hope, and the desire to unravel the mysteries of his childhood–mysteries compounded by the fact that Kamal is the son of an absent Indian father from a well-to-do family and a Swahili African mother of slave ancestry. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch Kamal’s early years in the ancient coastal town of Kilwa, where he grows up in a world of poverty but also of poetry, sustained by his friendship with the magical Saida. 

This world abruptly ends when Kamal is sent away by his mother to live with his father’s family in the city. There, the academically gifted boy grows up as a “dark Indian,” eventually going to university and departing for Canada. Left behind to her traditional fate is Saida, now a beautiful young woman. Decades later, Kamal’s guilt pulls him back to Kilwa … where we discovers what happened to Saida during a harrowing night of sinister rites. This complex, revelatory, sweeping and shocking book, is a towering testament to the magical literary powers of M.G. Vassanji.

Reviews

Amazon.ca - Best 100 Books of 2012

“The Magic of Saida is the sort of novel that, upon finishing, one wants to immediately read again, to examine, to study just how Vassanji works his narrative magic, and to allow oneself to savour it just that little bit longer. It’s simply baffling to me that such a book – that this book – appears on none of the major short lists this fall. It’s more than an oversight; it’s a crying shame.”
The Globe & Mail

“A gripping narrative … . [Vassanji’s] material is so compelling that he needs little more than to adopt the role of a chronicler … . A humble village, in the imagination of this chronicler, becomes a vortex of varying belief systems and ways of life.”
—National Post

M.G. Vassanji’s new novel offers an experience as mysterious and haunting as hearing the sudden beat of drums in the middle of the night… . The seductive power of Vassanji’s prose mesmerizes… . One of Canada’s best novelists … . Vassanji’s new novel is darker and far more complex than any of his previous books.”
—Quill & Quire