on 17 November 1999
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.
on 20 August 2003
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.
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.
on 18 December 2011
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. A journey made, a road travelled. Too many contemporary novels short change the reader by holding a mirror to the life of demanding desires given in to, and the consequencies, driven home by the inevitable cynicism . I wish Aboulela every success in the future, and more novels for us to read.
on 17 November 2015
A Sudanese "Brooklyn" but after a slow start more lyrically written , Can first generation migrant to the UK Sammer retain her cultural and faith beliefs but beat the loneliness and isolation she feels because if them and find love? The author brilliantly helps you see the world through Sammar's eyes.
on 9 March 2009
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. Back in Khartoum, her "other" life, absorbed in her extended family, is conveyed with a similar intimate familiarity and social awareness. Will they or won't they... ever get together again? The essential question for any love story is touchingly revealed by Aboulela, totally in tune with her characters and the wider cultural contexts, yet completely unpredictable until the end.
"The Translator", Aboulela's first novel, was originally published in England in 1999; the author won in 2000 the initial Caine Prize for African Writing, also referred to as the "African Booker". Reading the novel today, post 9/11 and with the ongoing crisis in Darfur regularly in the news, the novel strikes my as one of a more innocent time past, an excellent example that deals with a level of human intimacy and innocence, of cross-cultural understanding that is more complex to find today. [Friederike Knabe]
A poised and well-written story about love and about religious faith. Sammar, a Sudanese Muslim, has lost her husband Tarig in a car accident. Several years on, she is working in Aberdeen as a translator from Arabic for the university, drifting from day to day. Her life changes abruptly when she meets and befriends Rae, a lecturer specializing in Middle Eastern History and Islam. Slowly, they begin to fall in love. But Rae is not a Muslim, and Sammar will not marry anyone who is not - or contemplate a love affair without marriage. When Rae seems to hesitate about converting, Sammar determines to return to Sudan. But life there, as almost a servant in her former mother-in-law's house, is not quite what she expected, and she still yearns for Rae. Might fate, or Allah, bring them back together?
Aboulela brings Sammar's feelings, and her faith, vividly to life. As someone who has a strong religious sense, but is not hugely orthodox, I found Aboulela's depiction of Sammar's religious principles both moving and at times slightly frustrating - her refusal to contemplate Rae making up his own mind about what he believed was slightly alien to me. Sammar also has a submissive streak to her character which I imagine might not immediately endear her to some women, particularly those with feminist leanings. Still, Aboulela makes us sympathize with Sammar's choices, and she comes across as brave and likeable, in a story where such a character could have seemed narrowminded. I loved the depiction of Sammar and Rae falling in love, and the contrasts Aboulela pointed out between Sammar's life in Aberdeen and her life with her family in Khartoum. And the ending left me with a very warm glow.
An accomplished debut - I have Aboulela's two later novels on my shelf and look forward much to reading them.
on 21 January 2010
A deeply moving, unusual, at times painfully truthful and sensitive exploration of human loneliness, grief, faith of all kinds, and recovery. Aboulela writes with such beauty and deceptive simplicity that her artistry could be underappreciated; to read this novel is akin to experiencing it, without being fully conscious of its method of transmission, so intimate and transparent is its prose.
on 22 February 2013
I love being able to read stories from and about Muslim life in the UK, something that is quite difficult to find in the English language. This was a moving story about grief, migration and finding a new beginning for both the main character and her husband-to-be-at-the-end.
on 14 January 2010
I loved this book because it was poignantly written. I am from the same religious background as the main character and really felt I could relate to her, which is rare with me and books.
Buy it and you won't regret it.