dehner: new worlds

World Lit Rec #4

Uploaded with Snapbucket The Translator
by Leila Aboulela

Countries Represented: Scotland, Sudan

How I found this book: a recommendation on LibraryThing

Review: Sammar is a Sudanese widow living in Scotland. In the four years since her husband's death, she has lived in a tiny one room apartment, indifferent to her threadbare clothing, her poverty and even the mold on her cheese. But as she gradually falls for Rae, her Scottish employer and Islamic scholar, she wakes up to the world around her. Rae is gifted with the ability to make her feel at home in a strange country, but their differences in faith seem almost impossible to negotiate. Finding out if they'll be able to resolve these conflicts creates suspense in the novel.

Reading this book reminded me of eating the extra-creamy milk chocolate bar my boyfriend bought me: it's undeniably good, but so heavy it's hard to take in more than a little at a time. With only 200 pages of text, writer Leila Aboulela clearly hasn't gone overboard with descriptive writing. Yet, every page of the novel is drenched with atmosphere. Reading just five pages sometimes made me feel so full I had to put the book down. This is probably why it took me a long time to get into the story. But, once the novel caught hold of me, I was fully absorbed. As I neared the home stretch, I could see dozens of possible ways for the book to end. What the writer chose surprised me a little, but I feel she chose the best possible ending: one that tied up enough loose ends to leave you feeling satisfied, but with plenty left over for your imagination. There's a "solution" for each one of the characters, but none are without complications.

The World Lit Factor: I enjoyed this book as both an example of Muslim women's writing and as a document of the immigrant experience. Unlike a lot of Muslim women in the media these days, Sammar, the main character, doesn't feel oppressed by her religion. Fulfilling the requirements of her faith demands self-discipline and difficult decisions, but she never doubts it's a positive force in her life. Because we see only through her eyes, we get an authentic perspective on both Islam and the experience of an immigrant in Scotland. She's not trying to explain her faith to a Western audience; she simply lives it and lets us see it. I savored the small culture shocks of her adopted country, like seeing women walking huge dogs that seem capable of eating babies. Little moments like these brought home her outsider status far more effectively than long monologues on isolation.

This post brought to you by my project to read a book from every country in the world.
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*delightedly makes a note*

(Would say so much more but I just got back from a weekend away...)
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I hope you get a chance to check it out - I think you would really like it!

And I hope you had an excellent weekend :)