A consideration of grief and love interrupted.
Aboulela’s lovely, brief story encompasses worlds of melancholy and gulfs between cultures in its depiction of Sammar, a Sudanese woman born in the UK, married in Africa to her beloved cousin Tarig and quickly widowed after a car accident in the gray, chilly Scottish city of Aberdeen. Leaving her baby son Amir in Khartoum, Sammar returns to Aberdeen to spend four years in mourning, emerging only when hope of life is rekindled by the increasingly serious attention of Rae Isles, the Middle-Eastern historian and university lecturer for whom she works. The author’s pared-down, lyrical style subtly evokes the contrasts between cool Europe and warm Africa; the encompassing nature of Sammar’s Muslim belief; her emotional containment and alienation; and her fearful optimism at Rae’s declaration of love. But Rae hesitates when asked to convert, and for Sammar to marry a non-Muslim would go against the sharia. Exposed, she retreats into numbness. Returning on a visit to the “sunshine and poverty” of Khartoum, she decides to stay, resigning from her Aberdeen job. As in Minaret (2005), Aboulela triangulates her narrative between the three points of faith, exile and emotional attachment, but here grants her grave heroine and the reader the satisfaction of a miraculous ending.
A strikingly poised, cherishable novel.