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Tuesday Book Review – Season of Migration to the North

Yesterday we revealed a new Monday-Friday installment in which we consider a current event discussion topic.  We are working hard to post interesting original content each day of the week.  On Tuesdays we will be posting book reviews, which should be split about 50-50 between fiction and non-fiction.  Tomorrow will be Wednesday-QuizDay (catchy, eh?).  Thursdays are still coming together, so please be patient.  Then on the weekends we will post a Middle Eastern recipe as well as any historical or significance that accompanies that dish.  Anyways, the book review-

Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North is widely considered to be one of the best novels written in Arabic of the 20th century.  The book likely owes part of its popularity with English readers to the outstanding translation by Denys Johnson-Davies.  Written in 1969, the story is set in Sudan shortly after that state gained independence.  The plot begins with the arrival to the village of Mustafa Sa’eed, a mysterious, well educated man from Khartoum, who is quiet, a hard worker, and who earns the respect of the whole village, including the unnamed narrator.  Sa’eed spent time abroad in London as a student at Oxford, but is determined not to share his life experiences with the villagers.  However as the narrator and Sa’eed grow close, we the readers are treated to flashbacks of his past.  What develops is a fascinating portrayal of reverse-Colonialism—a reverse-Heart of Darkness, a new Othello.  Sa’eed’s experience in England combines with the lives of the cast of villagers to show post-colonial Sudan as a place where the people are torn between the past and present, between traditions and modernity, between Islamic and tribal customs, and between Europe and Africa.  When he eventually disappears, the narrator delves even further into Sa’eed’s life, culminating in a beautifully written scene that is both violent and erotic.  This novel is a quick read, yet extremely powerful.  For those who pick up the most recent edition of the book, it also includes a wonderful introductory essay by Laila Lalami which is worth reading both before and after reading the novel itself.

 

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