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.