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on 16 September 2010
Set in Sudan c1960, Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North deserves a wider readership. At 130 odd pages it is short but packs a powerful punch for it highlights the contrast between Arab/African and European cultures during the turbulent period of the 1950's and 1960's in Africa.
Mustafa Sa'eed has settled into village life at the age of 50 with a young wife and two boys but little is known about him since his arrival 5 years earlier. The narrator meets Mustafa and discovers that Mustafa had been an unusually gifted young man who had made a dramatic impact in England in the 1920's courted by the aristocrats and intelligentsia. Mustafa took advantage of the loose morals of many English women which contrasts decisively with his new tranquil life with his young Muslim Sudanese wife....but this short novella has a bitter twist to its tale. The narrative draws a rich collection of descriptive pictures from Mustapha's locked room the narrator enters to the amusing elders ribbing each other over their sexual expertise. This book has so many vignettes to savour but an underlying depth which understandably has it classified as a Classic.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 September 2011
Tayeb Salih concludes his classic work with the subject phrase on the next to last page, and it does capture the essence of this masterful novel. Salih died in 2009; he was Sudanese. This novel concerns the education of two Sudanese in England, over different time periods, and thus tracks Salih's own life. It is an intense and lyrical work, and he conveyed much on the dislocation of people who have been colonized when they attempt to bridge the two cultures; far better, in my opinion, that V.S Naipaul, for example. Unlike many immediate post-colonial works, Salih wrote in his native Arabic. The novel was first published in 1966. The author collaborated with Denys Johnson-Davis to produce this excellent English translation, in 1969. This edition contains a useful introduction by the Moroccan writer, Laila Lalami. In 2001, a panel of Arab writers and critics proclaimed it the most important Arab novel of the 20th Century. I would agree.

Salih skillfully uses a Sudanese narrator, who had studied the works of an "obscure English poet" in London, after World War II, to relate the story of Mustafa Sa'eed, a prodigy who leaves his native Sudanese village, attending school in Cairo first, and then on to England, during the early inter-war period. At one level, he is not a very sympathetic figure, relentlessly using "Orientalist" images of his native land (both jungle, with animals that do not actually exist, alternatively with desert) to seduce a string of susceptible white women. He promotes the "lie" that he lives. There are no "innocent victims" in this book, and the author takes a rather sardonic view of the various women who seek out this "exotic" experience. In his native land, he is proclaimed as the first to marry a white woman. But was it a prize? Or did it lead to his doom?

Salih has a startling modern perspective on the neo-colonial aspects of, say, the World Trade Organization, long before it existed. Consider: "Be sure, though, that they will direct our affairs from afar. This is because they have left behind them people who think as they do." And, "The schools were started so as to teach us to say `Yes' in their language." With actually colonialism only a few years in demise, Salih is also profoundly disillusioned with the new African leaders, and he is only a few steps away from proclaiming their "governance" as a kleptocracy.

But it sure is not all political or cultural dislocation. Salih also weaves a healthy, earthy eroticism through his work. An endearing character is Bint Majzoub, a woman who has already buried several husbands. She sits around "with the boys," smokes, drinks, and renders frank assessments of the essential aspect of the male-female relationship. Although it has only come to the West's attention in the last decade or so, what is euphemistically termed "female circumcision," and more correctly termed, and in deference to censorial sensibilities, I'll only use the initials, FGM, Salih has incisive observations on its practice, and how it is primarily located only in certain African countries, and is not practiced throughout most of the Islamic world; al-humdullah! There is also a wonderful "equal opportunity" aspect and a brilliant duality of outcomes for spousal abuse. An intensely written tale with high dramatic tension.

Late in the book the author reveals Mustafa Sa'eed life's bibliography. It includes Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution (Modern Library): 1, the works of Toynbee, Gibbon, Ford Madox Ford, Stefan Zweig, Charles Doughty, and many others. It is humbling. And with all those ideas, he seeks fulfillment, of sorts, by returning to his native village.

Small town life, leaving home for the big city, the thrills, and the disillusionment, and a yearning for home are themes that transcend cultures, and are encompassed within more than one. Salih masterfully adds the additional "spices" of a colonial subject people, racism, and the differences between Islam and the more secular West. It is a compact and dense work to be savored, of only 140 pages. 5-stars plus.
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on 8 July 2011
Season of Migration To The North has famously been described as the Heart of Darkness in reverse, where an African protagonist travels to London inadvertently exploiting and destroying the women he befriends. But it became apparent to me, reading this masterpiece, albeit in English translation, that Tayeb Salih had created something more fantastical than Conrad had done in his original, but arguably flawed novel. Salih plays with temporal linearity, jumping back and fore between Knightsbridge and a small but intensely socially rich Sudanese village on the banks of the river Nile; the identity of the narrator changes, a common device in Arabic literature; the climax to the story is brilliantly hinted at throughout the book, and previewed in a false, or dual, climax, a horrible love murder. Season really bowled me over, and it absorbed me from the moment I started reading it; the peripheral details, descriptions and detours interested me as much as the main plot, which was an unlikely though fascinating concoction. There is a memorable description of an English District Commissioner: [he] "...was a god who had a free hand over an area larger than the whole of the British Isles..." But there is no resentment of the British in Salih's tale; resentment is saved for the Sudanese comprador class, referred to as "nonentities" and "nobodies" by a character in the village. An examination of the complex East-West relationship, an artificial construct, lies at the core of the book, and simple, sweeping judgments are not held by any of the characters. Reading Season of Migration To The North takes the reader on a journey into the enormously complex, psychologically fraught, and deeply emotionally intertwined relationship between coloniser and colonised.
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on 21 October 2010
You could read this novel as a story of a man who became psychopathic and twisted by being taken away from his home and family 'for his own good', and who committed a dreadful crime as a result. We find out what this is early on in the book, so you read it knowing what will happen later on. But it's also about the terrible things that can happen to women when they give up control of their lives, or don't have it in the first place - when men act, or fail to act.

It is beautifully written and the plot is multi-layered and complex. You can read it in an afternoon, but it deserves more time and attention than that.
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on 1 July 2014
Tayeb Salih’s novel deals, among other things, the cultural clash between East and West in postcolonial Sudan. A tender and terrible tale, it opens cinematically with the return of the narrator to his village ‘on a bend in the Nile’ and the appearance of an enigmatic stranger among the familiar faces. A superb story that works on many levels.
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on 16 May 2011
Charming book - very evocotive and revealing of the time, culture and religion. I can imagine why it has caused controversy over the decades it has been published.....But as fresh, and contemporary a piece of writing as if it were written today. Very easy to read - quite an entrancing story....
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 August 2010
This beautifully written translation (so presumably the original language is also beautiful) can be read in one sitting, although rushing it is likely to mean getting less out of it. Most vivid for me are the descriptions of life in a remote village on the floodplain of the Nile, and the terrible heat of the Saharan sun. I particularly like the scene at nightfall in the desert, when it was at last cool enough for people to come alive, so that, nomads and travellers alike, were drawn together in an impromptu feast of eating and dancing.

However, I think the aim of the story is to explore the interaction between "western" and North African Islamic culture. In some ways it seems to me quite dated: published in the 60s, it describes a Britain that was still imperialist, very class divided and far less "multicultural" and concerned with issues of sexual and racial equality than is now the case. So, what I take to be one man's fictional taking of vengeance on the west by seducing and betraying unstable English women seems in some ways less shocking than the current real situation in which disaffected muslims may be driven to terrorism. "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is more relevant now.

I do not fully understand this work. The ways in which talented people from developing countries may suffer or be damaged by colonisation seemed to me to get muddled up with the individual drama of a Mustafa, a flawed, even psychopathic individual who gets drawn into sexual violence for reasons which may have little to do with the arrogance of westerners encountered - some of whom were good to him, plus there is the contrast of the narrator who seems able to cope with the cultural shock of being educated in the west.

The climax of the book in which the narrator enters the locked room to find Mustafa's ultimate secrets seemed to me to be exaggerated and ludicrous.

In the end, I am left a little disappointed, since the book begins with such promise. The final chapter is an interesting allegory, in which perhaps the Nile - powerful life giver yet also potential destroyer is likened to "alien western culture".

I can see that this book can give rise to stimulating discussion e.g. about the position of women - their abuse in both "north" and "south" - as Salih chooses to make the division, the respective values of different cultures - even what the novel is really about. However, I could wish that the author had not chosen to focus so much on the sexual relations between apparently disturbed individuals.
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on 10 November 2013
This is one of my favourite books of all times. I recommend this translation as others which I have read do not always make sense.
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on 12 April 2013
Season of Migration to the North is a book I go back to again and again. The prose is incredibly poetic and the narrative arc loses nothing when the surprise has gone. The plot is bleak in the extreme and the contrast with the beauty of the prose gives it a power that leaves one thinking well after the book has ended.
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on 31 August 2009
A man returns after having studied in England to his native village somewhere along the Nile in Sudan. There he meets another man, Sa'eed, who has a past very different to the life of a farmer he lives in the little village. The main story of the novel is this man's. But Sa'eed's story comes out in parts and in between there's a bit about the grandfather and his friends, the narrator himself, and the wife of Sa'eed.

It's interesting reading about village life in the Sudan half a century ago. And the author is ambitious in his attempt to describe characters, passion, and the purpose of life. Sa'eed plays well as someone with much talent and good looks, no past and very little heart. What does it take to shake authentic emotions into him and how does he cope with it.

I like the Joseph Conrad approach to the story and the setting as well. There is not something I think is bad about this novel but something is absent. It's a bit like a meal without the sauce connecting the components. Worth reading though.
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