Tales that take readers from Scotland to Sudan.
Aboulela has earned international acclaim for her fiction. Her work has appeared in prestigious journals, and one story republished here—“The Museum”—won the Caine Prize for African writing. In novels like Minaret (2005) and The Translator (1999), the author has given voice to characters who choose to—or are forced to—navigate two worlds, and she explores themes of immigration, alienation, and assimilation in the stories collected here. A chance encounter with a former classmate on a flight from Sudan to England compels a young woman to reconsider the choices she’s made in “The Ostrich.” The heroine of “Summer Maze” is the teenager Nadia; when the girl leaves her home in London to visit Egypt with her mother, Aboulela captures the complexity of her identity in passages like this one: “In Cairo, she was a stranger, but a stranger who went unnoticed, who was not tricked into paying extra for taxi rides and souvenirs.” A Scottish convert to Islam travels to Khartoum to meet his fiancee’s family in “Something Old, Something New,” and his experience isn’t quite what he expects. “He had thought, from the books he’d read and the particular British Islam he had been exposed to, that in a Muslim country he would find elegance and reason. Instead he found melancholy, a sensuous place, life stripped to the bare bones.” Such passages of clarity and insight are all too rare in this collection, though. Aboulela seldom dips beneath the surface of the narrative, and, when she does, she doesn’t linger. Given that so many of the settings and situations are similar across these stories, a sense of sameness sets in. And some of the shorter entries feel more like writing exercises or gestures toward a story than finished works.
An uneven collection from a gifted writer.