The Book of Secrets


339 pages
Contains Maps
ISBN 0-7710-8719-5
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Steve Pitt

Steve Pitt is a Toronto-based freelance writer and an award-winning journalist. He has written many young adult and children's books, including Day of the Flying Fox: The True Story of World War II Pilot Charley Fox.


Pius Fernandez is a retired South Asian schoolteacher living in genteel
poverty in Kenya. A prosperous local merchant, once one of Fernandez’s
less-brilliant pupils, unexpectedly comes to his rescue. In return, the
merchant asks Fernandez to read and explain the contents of a book for
him. The book turns out to be the long-lost diary of Alfred Corbin, an
Englishman who was the imperial colonial administrator for the area in
1913. This diary, the merchant suspects, holds secrets that concern many
people still living in the community.

Vassanji’s tale examines several generations of life on the border
between British East Africa and the German Colony. As official masters,
the Europeans are insensitive at best and brutal at worst. The
second-rung South Asian merchant class, which lives and thrives under
both regimes, maintains old-country prejudices that endlessly divide the
Indian community. The black African community, which seems only
peripheral for most of this absorbing book, ultimately supplants the
European rulers but finds itself unable to completely dismantle the
colonial legacy.


Vassanji, M.G., “The Book of Secrets,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 12, 2024,