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The Assassin’s Song

by M.G. Vassanji

In his latest novel, M.G. Vassanji tackles difficult and potentially explosive questions about the spiritual and the divine in India and North America. Fortunately, Vassanji’s book is multifaceted and subtle enough to do justice to the religious journey undergone by its main character.

Karsan Dargawalla grows up amid the turbulence of 1960s post-partition India, desperate to escape his birthright as the next lord and keeper of the religious shrine Pirbaag. In a world that thrives on religious divisions, Karsan and his father offer sanctuary that lies beyond the reach of Hindu and Muslim strife. At the same time, Karsan is intent upon finding the truth about Nur Fazal, a 13th-century sufi wanderer who found a home in Pirbaag and in a universal God. The burden of purity and self-discipline weighs heavily on Karsan as he yearns for more worldly pleasures.

Despite such private soul-searching, the narrative never loses sight of the larger political and religious events that impinge on Karsan’s otherwise sheltered existence. Karsan eventually cannot stand the turmoil and escapes to Harvard University and later Vancouver, B.C., where he lives a quiet existence with his wife and child. The depiction of the West as a place of freedom and secularism is simplistic, but the locale does offer Karsan temporary relief from his former angst.

Fortunately, the novel reveals that this freedom is illusory. Karsan faces tragedy in Vancouver and finds himself once again revisiting old questions. The book eschews both nostalgia and a cathartic resolution. Rather, Karsan finally realizes that escape is impossible and that true spirituality requires embracing doubt in all its myriad complexity.


Reviewer: Tara Lee

Publisher: Doubleday Canada


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 352 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-385-66351-9

Released: October

Issue Date: 2007-10

Categories: Fiction: Novels