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When She Was Queen

by M.G. Vassanji

The newest book from M.G. Vassanji (after 2003’s Giller-winning The In-Between World of Vikram Lall) is a gripping collection of short stories that span the globe, from Toronto to Africa and beyond. The narratives are evocative, rich in local detail, and vivid in character and plot.

The title story relates the disturbing experience of a son who learns that his mother was “sold” to a rich neighbour by his father in an ill-considered bet at a poker game. The discovery of this dirty little family secret is tragic and poignant. Another story describes the spiritual journey of a young man who returns to his roots in India to become, through a series of bizarre events and coincidences, a reluctant guru to the residents of his ancestral village. The desperation of the villagers’ lives juxtaposed against their pressing need for hope through the appointment of their “lost son” as their saviour, while highly improbable, is striking and totally believable.

One tale focuses on the ethical dilemma of a religious leader in Toronto who is caught in a raging conflict when a woman from his Islamic community insists that her atheist husband be given proper religious burial rites, but who also wants to abide by his last wish to be cremated, a taboo in Muslim faith.

Vassanji is a master storyteller, negotiating the in-between worlds of past and present, east and west, young and old. It is a world that is abundantly diverse, highly accessible, and fully enriching for all who travel there.


Reviewer: Laurel Smith

Publisher: Doubleday Canada


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 254 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-385-66176-2

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 2006-1

Categories: Fiction: Short