Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.
Ok, this is not a very formal review, rather more my first thoughts on this work by famed author in the UK, Leila Aboulela. Apparently she is Egyptian by heritage, raised in Khartoum, Sudan, and has spent most of her adult life in England. This explains quite a bit about the characters she presents in this latest novel, The Minaret. The setting is between Khartoum and London. The time floats between the 1980s, 1990s, and the early 2000s, but not in chronological order. It is a carefully constructed Cinderella tale gone backwards.
The main character, Najwa, was born into a secular and irreverent family of a nouveau riche father and an old money mother. They live a lavish lifestyle of jet-setting, servants, and materialism. In the 80s, Najwa and her twin brother, Omar, are in college, rather half-heartedly, and making fun of those “religious ones” while they party. Their father is a bureaucrat high in the government and there are hints of corruption. When the president of Sudan falls out of favor and there is a coup, Najwa’s world falls apart. Her father is abducted and executed by the new regime. Her mother takes Najwa and her brother to their “flat” in London where they find themselves destitute as their accounts and holdings are frozen by the new government in Sudan.
What Aboulela does and does with deftness, care, and in a demonstration of her craft as a writer is to let the audience peek into this slow window of change over time in Najwa’s life. As the movement goes from late teen’s mini-skirt wearing, callous, and shallow rich girl, to an increasingly religious and conservative working class woman, Aboulela could have made the transformation too fast, too unbelievable, or too cliche. Instead, the reader believes the changes, comes to understand the transformation of character, and, while wishing for a happy ending that might not come, we do not pity Najwa nor exhault her.
While I am not totally satisfied with the ending of the novel, I think that Aboulela has written a piece of historical fiction that is probably closer to the history than the fiction itself. Read it and enjoy!