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The Translator Paperback – 15 Jun 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited (15 Jun. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846970806
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846970801
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 139,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Leila Aboulela won the first Caine Prize for African Writing. Her new novel Lyrics Alley is set in 1950s Sudan and is based on the life of her uncle the poet Hassan Awad Aboulela who wrote the lyrics for many popular Sudanese songs. Leila is the author of two other novels: The Translator, one of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year, and Minaret- both long-listed for the Orange Prize. Her collection of short stories Coloured Lights was short-listed for the Macmillan Silver PEN Award. Leila's work has been translated into twelve languages and included in publications such as Granta, The Washington Post and the Virginia Quarterly Review. She grew up in Khartoum and now lives in Doha.
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Product Description


'A story of love and faith all the more moving for the restraint with which it is written' --J.M. Coetzee

'A lyrical journey about exile, loss and love... poetry in motion' --The Sunday Times

'She pulls you into her world as she refracts British life, its smells and sounds, its advertisements and turns of phrase.' --The Independent

About the Author

Leila Aboulela was born in 1964, grew up in Khartoum and moved to the UK in her twenties to study at the London School of Economics. In 1992, while living in Aberdeen with two young children and a husband working offshore, Leila found comfort through writing about her home city. She attended creative-writing workshops which helped to broaden her reading and introduced her to Scottish writers. Her last novel 'Minaret', published by Bloomsbury, was short-listed for the Orange Prize. Leila Aboulela now lives in Abu Dhabi and is currently working on her third novel.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Nov. 1999
Format: Paperback
As an Egyptian woman who lived for a long time in Khartoum (Sudan) and sometime in Aberdeen, I read Aboulela's novel with great interest. The author did not describe the two cities and their people in a conventional style. Instead, she has exposed many complex hidden human feelings that are built inside people who live in a certain geographical location. She has also cleverly exposed differences in the way of thinking between followers of different religions and philosophies. This ability is very rare and should be encouraged in a world of growing cultural integration. I congratulate the publishers for their positive contribution to the growing demand for cross-cultural perspectives.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 20 Aug. 2003
Format: Paperback
Sammar is a Sudanese woman, living in Aberdeen. She works as a translator, helping a professor named Rae. She is still suffering after the death of her husband, living in a shell, barely aware of the human world. Piece by piece, Rae draws her out and she begins to live again. But Rae is not a muslim, how can she follow her dreams to be with him?
The story is touching, if a little soppy at times. Sammar's thoughts are very revealing, the very personification of islamic philosophy and ethos. Her faith is simply her way of life, without being drawn into life or death struggles or politics. Her comments and observations on people's way of life here and in Sudan fill the book. Rae is an intriguing figure, he captivates her and the reader. Both characters are quiet and yet irresistably draw your interest. An excellent introduction for what is to many readers, another world. The ending is a little too pat, but that is a small criticism.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By BookWorm TOP 500 REVIEWER on 29 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback
In simplistic terms, 'The Translator' is a love story. The heroine, a Muslim widow working in Aberdeen as a translator, falls in love with a Scottish man, but is unable to have a relationship with him unless he converts to Islam. However, don't expect a fluffy, rom-com style novel - you won't get it.

The best way I can describe the writing in this novel is 'intense'. In parts it borders on being hard work to read. However, Aboulela is a good writer and I don't dislike her style - just sometimes find it a bit over the top. It's a good 'intellectual' story, not afraid of exploring complex issues in detail even sometimes slightly at the expense of the plot.

One of the things I like best about Aboulela's novels is the way they make Islam accessible and appealing to Western readers. Her books are unashamedly Islamic - perhaps in a way that would be jarring if it were Christianity being 'talked up' in the same way - but in a world where Islam is subject to constant analysis and dry debate, it's good to read about it from the perspective of someone who simply believes, and who finds their religion a comfort and a joy. As a non-religious person myself, I like to be brought closer to understanding the feelings of those who truly believe in and find happiness with any faith.

Overall, this is a good first novel from a talented writer. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Islam or Muslim countries. Her second novel, which I preferred, is also good, and I'll be interested to read the third if it's forthcoming.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mari Howard on 18 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved ths book - after reading Leila Abulela's other two novels, Mineret and Lyrics Alley, I was thrilled to find this one (her first actually) and enjoyed it immensely.

What marks this novel out is that as Aboulela is modest, and true to her faith's teachings, she doesn't have access to skimming over the depths and the uncertainties of a relationship which becomes one of "love" by using the route of sexual desire, sexual gropings, sexual relations and then - boom - something deeper. She must tread the path of describing the growth of intimacy of the mind, the soul, the intellect, even though the body might long to leap forwards towards the physical relationship. It is refreshing to read her work.

The young woman protagonist, Muslim by faith and upbringing, alone in an alien country, is lonely and isolated. Although a widow and a mother, she is inwardly very young. Her inner life is almost like that of a student in an alien city, and her reasoning and experiences in some way mirror the feelings and reasonings of any young person living alone. She thinks it through. She experiences the quickening of her heart as the phone rings, the anxieties of Does he see me as I see him?

The guy is older, "exeperienced" and Western.

The end may seem a bit cloyingly sweet, but the lovers reach it after much soul searching, after denying themselves the pleasure they seek in the other person, after treading a road of learning about themselves, their deepest raison d'etre They must both ask themselves, without consulting the other, do I believe in anything beyond what I want? Are my needs selfish? Can I live without this person, if it is demanded of me? Should I? Would that be better for them?).

That is a satisfying novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe on 9 Mar. 2009
Format: Paperback
Aberdeen, Scotland and Khartoum, Sudan, cities more dissimilar than one could imagine, form the backdrop to this finely crafted, tender cross-cultural love story. They are intimately connected through the main character, Sammar, as she experiences the stark contrasts of culture, history and climate. Yet, she remains very much attached to both places. Leila Aboulela builds on her own experience to create the very personal associations between place and character. The author's brief, yet rich, novel is not only a delicate and moving love story, seen primarily from the heroine's perspective, it also touches, in a more general sense, on general human emotions such as longing and belonging, tradition and change, loss, faith and personal growth.

Sammar, a young Sudanese widow, works with Scotsman Rae Isles, a recognized Islamic scholar, at the university in Aberdeen: she as a translator of Arabic, while he is the primary beneficiary of her work. Having returned from Khartoum where she had left her small son in the care of family, she hopes to free herself from the traditional constraints imposed on her there. Here, however, she has to come to terms not only with the bleak surroundings of a wet and grey winter, but with loneliness and memories of happier times. The author sensitively captures Sammar's state of mind: as a devout Muslim, she is sustained by her faith, her prayers providing a quiet rhythm for daily life. At the same time there is her growing attraction for Rae, his serious kindness, his extensive knowledge and "otherness". Her feelings are returned, yet remain unspoken until Sammar is about to leave on a home visit to bring back her son. The encounter does not turn out as Sammar would have hoped.
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