Research Article

Trauma, History and Desire in the Indian Ocean Imaginary. A Reading of M.G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets as Material Culture


Abstract

We can determine small truths about what happened in the past, but they coalesce into a large falsehood

Jules David Prown
‘Trauma, History and Desire in the Indian Ocean Imaginary. A Reading of M.G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets as Material Culture’ proposes an analysis of Vassanji’s novel based on what I envisage as the domineering thread of the text, namely, its material-cultural approach to the ‘object’ that shapes and un-shapes the narration, Alfred Corbin’s colonial diary. The dramatisation of Pius Fernandes’s — the narrator — material culture approach to the object under analysis deploys the metafictional terrain upon which the novel is constructed and unmasks the ambivalences and ambiguities that configure the Indian Ocean imaginary. The transformation of ‘the book of secrets’ — Corbin’s diary — into The Book of Secrets exposes the limits of historical discourse to articulate successfully the individual and communal trauma of a specific group of people from the East African coast. Without undermining historical narrative, the aim of this article is to reveal how trauma and desire impinge on the historical recreation of an Indian Ocean imaginary that addresses literature as an interconnected subfield of material culture.

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