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The Book of Secrets

M.G. Vassanji's novel won the inaugural Giller Prize in 1994.

M.G. Vassanji

In 1988, a retired schoolteacher named Pius Fernandes receives an old diary found in the back room of an East African shop. Written in 1913 by a British colonial administrator, the diary captivates Fernandes, who begins to research the coded history he encounters in its terse, laconic entries. What he uncovers is a story of forbidden liaisons and simmering vengeances, family secrets and cultural exiles — a story that leads him on an investigative journey through his own past and Africa's. (From Picador)

The Book of Secrets won the inaugural Giller Prize in 1994.

Read an excerpt | Author interviews

From the book 

They called it the book of our secrets, kitabu cha siri zetu. Of its writer they said: He steals our souls and locks them away; it is a magic bottle, this book, full of captured spirits; see how he keeps his eyes skinned, this mzungu, observing everything we do; look how meticulously this magician with the hat writes in it, attending to it more regularly than he does to nature, with more passion than he expends on a woman. He takes it with him into forest and on mountain, in war and in peace, hunting a lion or sitting in judgement, and when he sleeps he places one eye upon it, shuts the other. Yes, we should steal this book, if we could, take back our souls, our secrets from him. But the punishment for stealing such a book is harsh — ai! — we have seen it.

From The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji ©1994. Published by Emblem Editions.

Author interviews

On this week's Writers and Company: award-winning novelist M.G. Vassanji and war historian John Keegan. This clip was edited for copyright reasons.