by M. G. Vassanji
In this unique collection of linked stories, the curtain is drawn back to reveal life in the Asian community of Dar es Salaam, a port city on the east coast of Africa.
With delicate strokes, and with irony and humour, M.G. Vassanji brings alive the characters who live and work in the shops and tenements of Uhuru Street. Among a cast of vividly portrayed characters are: Roshan Mattress, so called because of her free and easy ways; Baby, the blubbery-fat daughter of a grocer, indulged but amiable; Ahmed, the street-wise orphan fighting for survival; Alzira, a young Goan dressmaker, who gaily entertains her employers with local gossip; a servant, Ali, who opens up the world for the children in his charge, until he oversteps his bounds and abruptly has to leave; and Zarina, tantalizingly lithe and gentle, who fills Baby’s husband, Black, with longing. In Vassanji’s deft hands, the street itself breathes life, and symbolizes the comradeship of this immigrant community. The stories take us from the late colonial days of the 1950s through to the 1980s when many of the characters have moved away from the confines of their community only to find that hopes and aspirations are displaced by harsh realities, and the spirit that was Uhuru Street is no more than a nostalgic dream.
Through his wonderfully drawn, often eccentric characters, Vassanji gives us a portrait of a place and a people losing their innocence. The stories come together as a story of generations new and old, the former searching for a new identity, the latter, fiercely holding onto the past. We share with these people the moment of moving on, of leaving the place where we have roots, knowing thatthings will never be the same.
Paperback: 144 pages