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This is the second novel by the Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela and her first long story based on an acute sense of geographical and cultural shift/gap most easterners coming to the west (or vice versa ) feel.
It beautifully and powerfully potrays the apparent coming down in the world of the main charachter Najwa who belonged to the privilaged upper/aristrocratic society in Khartoum and who along with her mum and twin brother has to seek political exile in Britain even while her father is tried and executed following a political coup.
Najwa who was used to maids and servants slowly becomes servile herself..choosing to slowly stay in the background with downcast eyes and finding pleasure in servic people as a domestic hand.
Once orphaned she gives every last penny she had to support her boyfriend's education and only to be shunned by him rather crudely as she slowly embraces islamic practises and she finds solace and companionship within the Muslim women's community and the mosque . The more conservative she becomes the more westernised her brother becomes and towards the end of the novel we find him serving a life time prison sentence for pedlling drugs and stabbing a policeman.
With strong emotional words like
'and while we were busy falling down we became strangers to each other, just because we had never before seen the other fall'
'For the first time, I was conscious of my shitty-coloured skin next to their placid paleness'
Najwa's yearning to go back to the past, go back to familiar grounds is powerfully reflected throughout the novel. 'I circle back, regress, a scratched record, a stutter.'
This book make a thought evoking read.
Though she has come down in her life embracing islam has given a peace, a tranqulity , her own circle of friends in a strange place and she finds pleasure in wearing the hijab and though fearing anti-rascist reactions she does'nt face anything serious other than a can of coke poured down her head.
The ending is eaually sad , heart rendering yet ironically justified and it would be a shame to disclose it in a reveiw .
I have read a few more books by Aboulela and as in most of her books Aboulela paints a very different pictureof Muslim women in London compared to what is usually seen in real life,who do not yearn to embrace Western culture, rather they seek solace in their growing religious identity.
She has tweezed out the small percentage of these women and has focussed all the spotlights in the book lovers world on them by transforming them into her main characters and this book is no exception.
An exceptional read if you want to read something very simply written yet briliantly penned.
price: £8 and stocked by most well known bookstores.