Speaker: Mr. M. G. Vassanji
Date of the Event: June 14, 2009

Topic: "A Place Within: Rediscovering India": Title of his recently published book.

Mr. M G Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. Before coming to Canada in 1978, he attended MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, where he specialized in theoretical nuclear physics. From 1978-1980 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Atomic Energy of Canada, and from 1980 to 1989 he was a research associate at the University of Toronto. During this period he developed a keen interest in medieval Indian literature and history, co-founded and edited a literary magazine (The Toronto South Asian Review, later renamed The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad), and began writing stories and a novel. In 1989, with the publication of his first novel, The Gunny Sack, he was invited to spend a season at the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa. That year ended his active career in nuclear physics. His contributions there he considers modest, in algebraic models and high spin states. The fact that he was never tenured he considers a blessing for it freed him to pursue his literary career.

Vassanji is the author of six novels and two collections of short stories. His work has appeared in various countries and several languages. His most recent novel, The Assassin's Song, was short-listed for both the Giller Prize and the Governor-General's Prize for best novel in Canada. It has appeared in the US (Knopf) and India (Penguin) and is scheduled to appear in the UK (Canongate).

His wife, Nurjehan, was born in Tanzania. They have two sons, Anil, and Kabir. He lives in Toronto, and visits Africa and India often.

Awards: Giller Prize, twice; Harbourfront Festival Prize; Commonwealth First Book Prize (Africa); Bressani Prize. Order of Canada.

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Synopsis of the Talk on "A Place Within: Rediscovering India"

“It would take many lifetimes, it was said to me during my first visit, to see all of India. The desperation must have shown on my face to absorb and digest all I possibly could. This was not something I had articulated or resolved; and yet I recall an anxiety as I travelled the length and breadth of the country, senses raw to every new experience, that even in the distraction of a blink I might miss something profoundly significant.

I was not born in India, nor were my parents; that might explain much in my expectation of that visit. Yet how many people go to the homeland of their grandparents with such a heartload of expectation and momentousness; such a desire to find themselves in everything they see? Is it only India that clings thus, to those who’ve forsaken it; is this why Indians in a foreign land seem always so desperate to seek each other out? What was India to me?

The inimitable M.G. Vassanji turns his eye to India, the homeland of his ancestors, in this powerfully moving tale of family and country. Part travelogue, part history, A Place Within is M.G. Vassanji’s intelligent and beautifully written journey to explore where he belongs.”

M.G. Vassanji is the author of the acclaimed novels The Assassin’s Song, shortlisted for the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, The Gunny Sack, which won a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, No New Land, and Amriika. He has twice been awarded the Giller Prize, for his novels The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. Vassanji lives in Toronto.

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