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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih


Summer read with Ferris.

Translated by Denys Johnson-Davies

1966 Novel first published in Beirut, which is 13 years after its independence.
1969 English translation published
2009 This edition published, w/ intro by Laila Lalami

This novel was banned for a period of time. Possibly the sexual references, since the Sudanese are Islamic.

Setting
1960's Wad Hamid, Sudan, along the Nil, post colonial times

Characters
Narrator - Unnamed, originally from Wad Hamid, Sudan, but moved away for work as adult. Visits
                 village when he can. Has doctorate in British poetry. Works in England. Tries to use his
                 education to help advance his hometown.
Mustafa Sa'eed - from Khartoum, residing in Wad Hamid when Narrator returns to his village. Was
                            an academic in England until murdered his English wife, Jean Morris. Spends 7
                            years in jail, then moves to Wad Hamid, Sudan. Keeps his past life quiet, never
                            sharing it with anyone (until he meets the narrator). Marries Hosna Bint Mahmoud,
                            disappears one night during flood season. Is presumed dead. Leaves his wife & kids
                            to narrator's care, as Executor. 
Hosna Bint Mahmoud - Mustafa Sa'eed's wife when narrator first meets him, births 2 boys.
Ma Joub - Narrator's good friend that he grew up with in Wad Hamid
Mahmoud - Hosna Bint's father. He arranges their marriage. Town's people are not happy that he
                    allows her to marry an outsider.

Four former girlfriends of Mustafa Sa'eed's:
Ann Hammond - committed suicide due to Mustafa
Sheila Greenwood - committed suicide due to Mustafa
Isabella Seymour - committed suicide due to Mustafa
Jean Morris  - Mustafa murders the bitch, for which Mustafa serves seven years in jail, in England

Hajj  Ahmed - narrator's grandfather
Bakri - grandfather's friend
Ray Wayyes - wants to marry Hosna Bint Mahmoud after Mustafa disappears, and is believed dead
Bint Majzoub - in her 80's, and friend of Narrator's grandfather. Smokes and talks with the men
                         like one of the guys. Believes in female circumcision.

Sir Arthur Higgins -  Mustafa's lead prosecutor and professor who taught Mustafa law


Themes
Eastern and Western cultures
Misogyny - female circumcision
Power of nature - its destruction
Modernization and its drawbacks
Corruption - political and personal
Storytelling - Is the narrator, emotionally involved, a reliable storyteller?

Two stories going on at one time: linear story of narrator's return and Mustafa's story that goes back and forth in time.

Quotes and Notes
p.  5      Cultural theme: East and West, there is not much difference between the two, per narrator.:

"They were surprised when I told them that Europeans were, with minor differences, exactly like them, marrying and bringing up their children in accordance with principles and traditions, that they had good morals and were in general good people."

Just as the English who occupied their land where corrupt, when they, the Sudanese who took power  also became corrupt. No difference.

p. 6    " Seeing the bank contracting at one place and expanding at another,, I would think that such was life: with a hand it gives, with the other it takes."

p. 27    "When she saw me, she saw a dark twilight like a false dawn."   Ann H. of Mustafa
             "My bedroom was a graveyard that looked on to a garden...:  Mustafa

p. 29
"These girls were not killed by Mustafa Sa'eed but by the germ of a deadly disease that assailed them a thousand years ago."

"I am the desert of thirst. I am no Othello. I am a lie. Why don't you sentence me to be hanged and so kill the lie?"

"I would stay awake all night warring with bow and sword and spear and arrows, and in the morning I would see the smile unchanged and would know that once again I had lost the combat. It was as though I were a slave Shahrayar you buy in the market for a dinar."

What wonderful prose. Beautifully written, and example of the author's lyrical narration. Extraordinary!

p. 30  "My  bedroom was a spring-well of sorrow, the germ of a fatal disease."

p. 33  "Curiosity had changed to gaiety, and gaiety to sympathy, and when I stir the still pool in its depths the sympathy will be transformed into a desire upon whose taut strings I shall play as I wish."

p. 32 "With the instinct of a gambler I knew that this was a decisive moment. At this moment everything was possible." Author is perceptive with regard to human nature throughout book.

p. 41  "But I am from here, just as the date palm standing in the courtyard of our house has grown in our house and not in anyone else's. The fact that they came to our land, I know not why, does that mean that we should poison our present and our future:"  If I understand this correctly, it is a fitting and perfect ideology all should possess; especially if immigrants are not favorable in one's eyes. Do not destroy the world with the poison that has gone on, and will probably go on, for thousands of years. Just accept and learn to live with one another. So much animosity, what is the point?

p. 45  Judge passing judgment on Sa'eed: "Mr Sa'eed, despite your academic prowess you are a stupid man. In your spiritual make-up there is a dark spot, and thus it was that you squandered the noblest gift that God has bestowed upon people - the gift of love."

p. 67  "The infidel women aren't so knowledgeable aboutt his business as our village girls. They're uncircumcised and treat the whole business like having a drink of water. The village girl gets herself rubbed all over with oil and perfumed and puts on a silky night-wrap, and when she lies down on the red mat after the evening prayer and opens her thighs, a man feels like he's Abu Aeid El-Hilali. The man who's not interested perks up and gets interested."

This is a quote from the village woman, Bint Majzoub. In the book, she hails female circumcision. States it is, essentially, not the horrible thing outsiders think it is; that it enhances female pleasure. Rad Rayes, a man, speaks against it, briefly, and is the only one who does.

Female circumcision is mutilation and causes sex, for the female, to be very painful. I was confused. Was Bint Majzoub meant to be lying to her male friends, making it up because the truth would point to a practice ingrained in their culture - a truth that would be to painful to voice? I was not sure how the reader was to understand her claim. Especially since Bint Majzoub discussed its favor-ability many times throughout the book. Disturbing.

p. 82  "We civil servants are of no consequence. People like you are the legal heirs of authority; you are the sinews of life, you're the salt of the earth."

An interesting point-of-view - the "lowly civil servant" and farmer sees himself as less than his educated friend despite the fact he has done much for his community by heading many committees and being elected for numerous others. His educated friend sees things the other way around: while he was away getting an education in poetry, his friend was home making a difference to and for the benefit of the village. He envies his naturally gained knowledge, so to speak, and all he has accomplished. He feels his background has not provided him with the skills necessary to be of help to his village.

This brings to mind the point - where ever and however knowledge is acquired, if used for the benefit of oneself, ones family and community, it does not matter how it is gained. Yet, the way society is structured, a formal education is the only way to ensure everyone has an equal chance. I am veering away from the author's purpose a little. But, it can be seen as it is - an universal situation. The author seems to be saying, they are both valid forms of education, but the formal education is not always practical. Especially, in this particular instance where the educated friend majored in poetry - an impractical avocation for a small Sudanese village.

In Summary
Seasons of Migration to the North is a beautiful and engaging book with wonderful characters, great storytelling, and exquisite writing. It is a must read for translation literary lovers!



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