M. G. Vassanji was born in Kenya but of Indian descent. He spent most of his early life in Tanzania before being educated in the United States and then settling down in Canada. His first novel, The Gunny Sack (1989), floats on the themes of memory and migration.
He writes of a community’s memory:
this spongy, disconnected, often incoherent accretion of stories over generations. Like the karma a soul acquires, over many incarnations, the sins and merits, until in its final stages it lumbers along top-heavy with its accumulations, desperately seeking absolution.
The Gunny Sack is about US-based Salim Juna who inherits his grandmother’s gunny sack and with it comes the torrent of memories of being an Asian in East Africa. The lives of Salim’s ancestors is woven through the historical events of East Africa from the Mau Mau uprising to Idi Amin’s rise to power. It offers a glimpse into the community’s memory and its unique experience.