Monday, 6 June 2011

Kim's Review: Minaret

Leila Aboulela is the first Sudanese author I can claim to have read and it was her presence at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year, that led me to buy and read Minaret. As a person, Leila came across as a gentle introspective soul and this feeling was reinforced while I read Minaret.

Minaret is a very moving and personal account of life, its realities, its hardships, how reality can change in an instant.

The story starts in London, flashes back to Khartoum in 1984-85, forward to London in 2003, back to London in 1989-90, back again to London 2003-4, London in 1991 and ends in London in 2004. This back and forth telling of the tale, evokes new questions, which get answered as you read along.

Najwa is a hijab wearing cleaning woman in London when we meet her at the start of the book, but 20 years earlier she was a mini skirt wearing, upper class westernised, well to do carefree young girl studying at the University of Khartoum with hordes of servants at her beck and call. Now, in London she is as anonymous as the Ethiopian maids who worked at her Fathers house in Khartoum.

From spending evenings at clubs in Khartoum to evenings at the mosque in London, Minaret is the tale of struggle and search for identity. Shifting realities make Najwa question her beliefs, her values, her faith, her friendships, her politics.

The book does refer to the multiple coups and shifting political scenarios in Sudan, but through the eyes of Najwa who is disinterested in politics for the most part, until her father is executed during a change in regime and brief glimpses through the eyes of Anwar - a student activist - not above using and absuing his friendship with Najwa for personal gain.

Minaret is a tale of loss, of rediscovered faith, of immigrants and of exile. While Najwa is muslim and there are a lot of Islamic references through the novel, it isn't about Islam, it is about faith and how when all else fails, it is only faith that can sustain a human being. This is a feeling you get all over India as you wonder how the multitude of masses get through the day, and the only answer to that is "faith".

A touching, poignant book with a lot of passages that make you stop and reflect on them for awhile.

Rating: 3.5/5


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