Red Wheelbarrow Book Reviews
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by Leila Aboulela
Until I read the book, I had only the vaguest of notions regarding the Sudan, all of them based on Alan Moorehead's White Nile, Blue Nile which I had read decades ago. The Blue Nile joins the White Nile in Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan. Minaret is the story of Najwa, a young Sudanese girl from a rich family, brought up in Khartoum during the 1980's. She is part of a western elite of Muslims who attend the university, live in huge houses, six servants, trips abroad, life of ease and luxury.
Comes the revolution and the family is exiled to London, but Najwa's father is hung for his capitalist offenses.
The book travels in time from l984 to 2004, from Khartoum and affluence to London and poverty mixed with misery for the young woman. Her mother dies of an illness, her brother succumbs to drugs and violence and receives a heavy prison sentence. Najwa makes her living as a servant in the house of well to do Sudanese who found her through an announcement in the Regents Park Mosque.
The book is really the journey of a young girl which begins in confusion and ends, finally, in a hard found peace. A muslim girl from a coventional muslim family committed to a conventional faith based on good works and charity moves towards a young woman's conversion to the Islamic faith based on a strong belief in the truth of the Koran.
Some of this conversion is shown through the two love affairs in her life. The first with Anwar, a radical sudanese student who is also expelled to London by the next revolution and with whom she has a long drawn out affair until she realizes that he will never marry her.
Her second love is for the much younger brother of her employer. He too will never marry her. He, however, leads her to her conversion and brings to her life a new reliance in her faith after her disillusionment.
The book is a quiet book. It is unusual in that it brings not only the heroine but also the reader to an understanding of fundamentalist faith. You move towards an appreciation of the value of a spiritual life, it brings you an understanding of the complexities of an immigrant's life and the sustenance that faith brings to the lonely.
The reviews have praised the authoršs language, but I am a grammatical pedant and I was troubled by the many grammatical errors. Don't let that deter you. I am old-fashioned and, as I said, I am a pedant, an eternal teacher.