Minaret by Leila Aboulela (thoughts)
I first discovered Sudanese author Leila Aboulela last year, when I read and adored The Translator. I suspected at the time that she could become one of my favourite authors, and my experience with Minaret has just confirmed that. I love quiet books that focus on a character’s inner life, and Aboulela brings to that not only a different cultural background but a religious sensibility that makes me see, far more than any of the nonfiction I’ve read, how one could fall in love with Islam. She also has such a pitch-perfect approach to grief and love that every page becomes resonant with feeling; she’s the kind of contemporary author that convinces me I could never read only classics.
Ahem. Apparently I’m in a gushing mood! ;) Minaret opens in contemporary London, following Najwa, a middle-aged Sudanese woman as she goes to a job interview for a nanny/housekeeper position. Then the book moves back and forth between the present and the woman’s past history as the child of an elite Khartoum family. It’s a story about change, I suppose, the way that we adjust when circumstances render our previous dreams meaningless. But really I loved Minaret for Najwa: I really connected with her struggle to find contentment in her life and to figure out her true self. There’s so much richness in this novel that I imagine all kinds of readers will find something that speaks to them. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves character-centered fiction or international lit that doesn’t pander to a Western audience or who’s about to give up on modern authors. ;)
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Calligraphers’ Night by Yasmine Ghata (Another novel with character-centered focus, beautiful prose, and strong sense of Islam.)
- Passing by Nella Larsen (Larsen’s characters are also trying to figure out their identities and have a trace of the tragic about them.)
- Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night by Sindiwe Magona (If you were most interested in Aboulela’s portrayal of the experience of being a servant, Magona’s short story collection does an excellent job of allowing readers a look at life for South African ‘domestics.’)