Book of Secrets Book Review
On my bedside table this week was The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji (another Toronto resident). I’m not usually into this type of book…but found that I couldn’t put it down once I gave it a chance!
The story revolves around a diary that is discovered in the back of a shop during the 80s – a shop that has been around since the early 1900s (when the diary takes place). We’re talking totally different eras that trace back the history of Dar es Salaam, and end up connecting people from the “present” with relatives from the “past.” I usually get really annoyed when stories intersect the paths of characters as they’re often connected in really obnoxious ways that are meant to be “non-obvious” but totally obvious. But Vassanji’s mirroring is done in a way that had me curious to see how the characters turned out in the end.
I haven’t really been exposed to much dealing with East Africa, but found this book to actually spike my curiosity. I got lured in by some of the characters making their way over from India, including the main character of Pius Fernandes (a retired schoolteacher who becomes obsessed with the diary). This book was actually lent to me by a curious Indian mechanic, Mahendra. In Pius Fernandes I find a rendition of a truly sad old man. Being forced into retirement (and a meager pension), the mystery diary becomes the highlight of his life. He pieces things together from a period in time that the country would rather forget, and it seems no one cares except him. Fernandes brings together such…desolate loneliness that it literally made me shift my weight on my butt as I read passages about his stunted sexuality and obsession with unraveling the secrets. What made me almost more…pained…was the illiterate man who was given the diary belonging to the British colonial officer who ran their town, and that he was unable to access the “secrets” within its pages because he couldn’t read. In reality, there aren’t really that many secrets, but it’s a wonderfully mysterious thing to feel as if one is the keeper of a sacred book of prophecy and mysticism.
Kinda makes me wonder what’s gonna happen if my diaries are ever found in the distant future. Hopefully by then all the boys I’ve written about will be long gone, and I won’t have to own up to the things that dwell beneath my brain.