The Assassin’s Song
by: M. G. Vassanji
Published by: Vintage Books
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Reviewed by Muhammed Hassanali
Imagine your life being planned for you without considering your feelings. Imagine being denied the opportunity to explore your talents because they conflict with this plan. Unfortunately we all bear this burden at some point in our lives. The extent differs, but the burden is there nonetheless.
The Assassin’s Song is narrated through Karsan Dargawalla who is heir to the 700-year-old shrine of a 13th century Sufi Nur Fazal. The shrine is in Gujarat, India. It is expected that Karsan, like his father and his ancestors before him, will be keeper of the shrine dispensing blessings and wisdom to all those who visit, regardless of their race, caste or religion. Karsan has an opportunity to move away from the restricted life at the shrine and explores the world outside. Later, he returns to the shrine to become its next Saheb (the role his father played before him, and the role he rebelled against).
The book begins with Karsan at the shrine after his parents are dead, the shrine is destroyed, and his brother has become a militant Muslim and is wanted by the authorities for some unknown crime. Karsan says, “I, the last lord of the shrine of Pirbaag, must pick up the pieces of my trust and tell its story… .” Thus the book begins at the end and through flashbacks it pieces together the life of Karsan Dargawalla as he sees it. Interspersed are chapters that tell the tale of Nur Fazal (also known as the Wonderer). Could it be to show the imperfect symmetry between the lives of Nur Fazal and Karsan?
The narrative is not poetic but contains simple truths. Karsan’s teleological question is “Do we always end up where we belong?” As are questions of duty, faith, and self-awareness. It seems that there isn’t one resounding truth, but a plethora of small complexities that envelope the characters – with all their contradictions. This book requires patience, empathy, and curiosity. The glossary does not offer a complete list of Indian words used through the text. The story is slow to start, but picks up about halfway through.
The book explores the conflict between ancient loyalties and modern desires through Karsan Dargawalla’s painful struggle to maintain a fine balance between the earthly and the ethereal.
Armchair Interview says: The story is about cultural balance.
Author’s Web site: http://www.MGVassanji.com
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