Minaret Paperback – 7 Aug 2006
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A novel that unpacks complex emotional baggage with deceptive sleight of hand -- Independent
Timely, well-written and, in the end, asks us to think seriously and sympathetically about Muslim identity -- Observer
Written with sensitivity and grace, Minaret is an unsensational but gripping story of one womans spiritual awakening -- Image
About the Author
Leila Aboulela was born in 1964 and grew up in Khartoum. She is the author of two books: a novel, The Translator which was published to critical acclaim in 1999 and a book of short stories, Coloured Lights published in 2000. Leila Aboulela lives between Jakarta and Aberdeen.
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The transformation and changes that accompany the active practice of the Islamic faith by Najwa in exile, and the role that Islam plays in the life of Tamer (a protagonist)are both explored against a constant backdrop of human and cultural discord. Leila Aboulela communicates this in a genuine and almost tactile manner that few other authors of this genre manage.
Minaret takes its readers on a voyage to Khartoum and London. It also takes its readers on a universal trip that is insightful, emotional and beautifully human.
She writes about muslims in the west in such an honest way that is lacking in other novels. She speaks about practicing and non- practicing muslims in a way that is neither degrading nor glorifying. She speaks about them simply as humans. She talks about their struggles, their sins, and their desires.
She describes the details of the place, time, heart, and mind to a degree that makes you feel that you are touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling and not just reading.
The principle character is Najwa, a Sudanese woman living in London after fleeing a military coup. Having been used to a life of luxury in Sudan, in London she works as a cleaner and suffers various hardships, but finds a source of peace and happiness through faith. Najwa is an interesting, plausible character and it is easy to empathise with her even for a non-Muslim reader.
The writing is beautiful, compelling and a joy to read. The story draws you in the from the beginning and is very believable throughout. I felt the plot remained plausible throughout, even at the end (where a lesser writer might have strayed too far into the realms of fantasy). Aboulela chooses which parts of Najwa's story to tell and which to skip very well.
Although Najwa's faith is important to her and there are references to religion throughout the book, it isn't at all 'preachy' and non-religious or non-Muslim readers should not be put off. It did make me feel slightly envious of people with faith at times - quite an achievement! And the storyline is interesting and well told, with religion as an incidental background rather than the driving force.
I'm surprised this writer isn't more widely publicised - she is very readable and I think reading this would help western readers gain understanding of ordinary, mainstream Islam. It's hard to find much to criticise - I did find Najwa a bit saintly at times, but she's still a plausible character and I can't say it really bothered me.
Highly recommended to anyone - it's a pleasure to read. I'll certainly be looking out her other novel and hoping for more to follow.
The story itself is a riches to rags story of someone who goes through a huge change in her life. Najwa, the central character of the story, is born into a wealthy family in Sudan and has found herself, later in life, working as a maid in London. I like the style of writing where we are taken back and forth across Najwa's life. We read a few chapters set in the present, of her life in London. Then we go back to the early years and then back again to the present. The reader can gradually piece together the story of her life.
I found myself feeling sorry for her initially and then less so as the story progresses. Some of the decisions she takes are incredibly stupid. I won't say more for fear of spoiling the story.
The book ought to have been proof read properly. There are quite a few sentences that are grammatically incorrect. Not too many to distract from the overall story. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.
Her female friends in the mosque help to ground her and provide much needed warmth; I loved the easy description of her relationahip with her friend there, but ultimately that very sensible, kind woman serves to point up unreality of the heroine's world.
An insightful study of an intelligent, but damaged, young woman.
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