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The Assassin's Song    by M. G. Vassanji order for
Assassin's Song
by M. G. Vassanji
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Michael Graves

The Assassin's Song primarily takes place in two diverse countries and cultures; namely, rural Hairpir, India and Harvard in the USA. This is just one of the many contrasts that are vividly portrayed throughout the story.

Karsan, the book's main character, who by lineage is expected to be the next Saheb, the lord and keeper, of Pirbaag, the Shrine of the Wanderer, narrates the story. However, he wants to be 'just ordinary' and, in a land of paternal expectations, this is just not going to cut it. So the classic father-son conflict is initiated and in this book magnified by tradition and religion. Ultimately Karsan rejects his heritage, but remains drawn to the mystic strings of Pirbaag.

Although this conflict is essential to the narrative, it is only one element in the development of the main character. The story is spellbinding and this is thoroughly aided by the mysticism and colour of a world that the average reader would not normally encounter.

Religion is a major influence in the book from the adherents of Sufism to the bloody conflicts between Hindu and Islam. This starts with the peaceful journey of the wanderer who is eventually honoured by the shrine in Pirbaag and continues to the brutal violence of the 2002 riots.

Karsan, the protagonist of The Assassin's Song, talks of how 'With a deep breath of excitement I would pick up a fresh book, read the blurb at the back, leaf through the preliminary pages: savour the moment, before I plunged in and spent a good part of my evening'. Be similarly prepared to sink into this delightful novel by Giller prizewinner M. G. Vassanji.

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