From Publishers Weekly
Aboulela's third novel, inspired by the life of her uncle, the poet Hassan Awad Aboulela, offers a delightfully quixotic view of northern Sudan in the 1950s on the brink of its independence from Britain and Egypt. Nur is the favored son of the wealthy Abuzeid family, destined to take over the family business, until he is severely injured in an accident. Mahmoud, Nur's father, is both optimist and pragmatist, eager to embrace contemporary mores yet firmly rooted to his homeland. Mahmoud's two wives—Nur's deeply traditional and veiled mother, Waheeba, and Nabilah, a young and homesick Egyptian—have conflicts that swell and erupt in both predictable and surprising ways. The characters are lovingly and precisely rendered, and Aboulela (The Translator) describes the impact of Nur's disability with keen detail and noteworthy empathy. Though the novel offers few glimpses into life outside the Abuzeid's sheltered enclave, paying scant attention to the history and turmoil of an era that left Sudan in a lengthy civil war, Aboulela provides fine insight into the practice of Islam, especially through the children's tutor's thoughts and words, as well as a thoroughly engaging if romanticized exploration of the universal tensions between modernity and tradition, commerce and art, faith and doubt. (Mar.)
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Aboulela is a prizewinning novelist who was born in Khartoum, Sudan, and currently lives in Qatar. This novel traces the trials and tribulations of a wealthy, semi-Westernized Sudanese clan�the Abuzeids�as they strive to cope with domestic turmoil as well as the transition to political independence from Great Britain in the 1950s. The family�s wealth, remarkably, has been accumulated largely via domestic commerce independent of British control, so postindependence prosperity seems likely. Then a crippling accident to the young heir apparent to the family business begins a series of setbacks; the efforts of individual characters to cope with these disasters form the core of the narrative. Aboulela writes well in English, sometimes too well, as her flowery prose is sometimes excessive. Still, she creates interesting characters, knows how to manage dramatic tension, and effectively conveys a sense of a once-comfortable, insular existence slowly crumbling under the strain of events that seem beyond control. This is a well-done family saga that should appeal to general readers and those familiar with the places and period that mold the setting of the story. --Jay Freeman