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Season of Migration to the North (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

by Tayeb Salih, Denys Johnson-Davies, Laila Lalami
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 14, 2009 1590173023 978-1590173022
After years of study in Europe, the young narrator of Season of Migration to the North returns to his village along the Nile in the Sudan. It is the 1960s, and he is eager to make a contribution to the new postcolonial life of his country. Back home, he discovers a stranger among the familiar faces of childhood—the enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa takes the young man into his confidence, telling him the story of his own years in London, of his brilliant career as an economist, and of the series of fraught and deadly relationships with European women that led to a terrible public reckoning and his return to his native land.

But what is the meaning of Mustafa’s shocking confession? Mustafa disappears without explanation, leaving the young man—whom he has asked to look after his wife—in an unsettled and violent no-man’s-land between Europe and Africa, tradition and innovation, holiness and defilement, and man and woman, from which no one will escape unaltered or unharmed.

Season of Migration to the North is a rich and sensual work of deep honesty and incandescent lyricism. In 2001 it was selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the classic themes followed in this complex novel, translated from the Arabic, is cultural dissonance between East and West, particularly the experience of a returned native. The narrator returns from his studies in England to his remote little village in Sudan, to begin his career as an educator. There he encounters Mustafa, a fascinating man of mystery, who also has studied at Oxford. As their relationship builds on this commonality, Mustafa reveals his past. A series of compulsive liaisons with English women who were similarly infatuated with the "Black Englishman," as he was nicknamed, have ended in disaster. Charged with the passion killing of his last paramour, Mustafa was acquitted by the English courts. As he unravels his complicated, gory and erotic story, Mustafa charges the listener with the custody of his present life. When Mustafa disappears, apparently drowned in the Nile and perhaps a suicide, another door in his secretive life opens to include his wife and children. Emerging from a constantly evolving narrative, in a trance-like telling, is the clash between an assumed worldly sophistication and enduring, dark, elemental forces. An arresting work by a major Arab novelist who mines the rich lode of African experience with the Western world.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Season of Migration to the North is an engaging and complicated novel, by turns combative and wistful, about two men who leave Sudan to study in England and afterward belong in neither place." --Maude Newton,

"Season of Migration to the North is remarkably compact, really a novella rather than a novel. But woven into the brief text is a dense tracery of allusions to Arabic and European fiction, Islamic history, Shakespeare, Freud, and classical Arabic poetry—a corpus that haunts all his writing. Salih, who died this past February in London, packed an entire library into this slim masterpiece. It is literature to the second degree. And yet it is anything but labored. Rather, it is alive with drama and incident: crimes of passion, sadomasochism, suicide. It is a novel of ideas wrapped in the veils of romance." --Harper's Magazine

"This is the one novel that everyone insisted I took with me. Set in a Sudanese village by the Nile, it is a brilliant exploration of African encounters with the West, and the corrupting power of colonialism. The narrator is a man returned to his native village, after university in England, and he gradually unpicks the horrifying story of a newcomer he finds in his old home. This man had been a brilliant Sudanese student and had also gone to England with terrible consequences. I never got this book out to read without someone coming up to tell me how brilliant it was." --Mary Beard

“Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih, is an eloquent and restrained portrait of one man’s exile. It is a rare narrative in that it charts a life divided between England and Sudan. Without a doubt it is one of the finest Arabic novels of the 20th century, and Denys Johnson-Davies' translation…does the original justice.” –Hisham Matar

"Emerging from a constantly evolving narrative, in a trance-like telling, is the clash between an assumed worldly sophistication and enduring, dark, elemental forces. An arresting work by a major Arab novelist who mines the rich lode of African experience with the Western world. An arresting work by a major Arab novelist who mines the rich lode of African experience with the Western world." –Publishers Weekly

"A beautifully constructed novel by an author whose reputation in Arabic is deservedly vast." –London Tribune

"It is certainly time that [Salih] be better known in America." –The Christian Science Monitor

“An Arabian Nights in reverse, enclosing a pithy moral about international misconceptions and delusions...Powerfully and poetically written and splendidly translated by Denys Johnson-Davies.” –The Observer (London)

“Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, a Sudanese novelist, and one of the most important Arabic-language novelists. It's the story of a man who has studied abroad and returned to life in Sudan–about the sort of cultural conflict and internal conflict from colonization. It's a very short novel and a number of people had recommended it to me based on what I had written. The subject matter is interesting: the story of this crisis of someone returning from life in the West." –The Christian Science Monitor
"This book was given to me some time ago by a librarian who had to replace her fiction shelves with an information centre. I was completely captivated by the story...the writing is extraordinarily hypnotic. First published in Arabic in 1966, and in English in 1969 by Heinemann's African Writers Series, it was much acclaimed but did not gain as wide a readership in English as it deserved." –The Guardian
"Inevitably, Aboulela has been compared to Tayeb Salih, whose brutal novel Season of Migration to the North is considered a classic among postcolonial texts and covers the same geographical distance as Minaret (Salih's fiction has been widely translated from Arabic; Aboulela writes in English.)" –The Daily Star (Beirut)
"The prose, translated from Arabic, has a grave beauty. It's the story of a man who returns to his native Sudan after being educated in England, then encounters the first Sudanese to get an English education. The near-formal elegance in the writing contrasts with the sly anti-colonial world view of the book, and this makes it even more interesting." –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Purple Hibiscus

"In this extraordinary 1966 novel, a young man returns to his Sudanese village after studying abroad...Salih's own distinguished career with Unesco only sharpens this nightmare of a cultural singularity that twists into a lie. His sweet foreword remarks that he never made much money from fiction, so this reissue is doubly welcome." –The Guardian
"The Sudanese classic novel Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih's inversion of Conrad's journey into Africa." –The Guardian
"Though Salih's work is deeply rooted in local culture, Johnson-Davies says it has a universal appeal: ‘He writes in the main about simple peasant people living in a village on the Nile, but they are individuals with very much the same preoccupations as anyone else. I recollect a scene where several of the characters boast about the merits of the donkeys they are riding, as though one was driving a Porsche, another a Maserati, and so on!’” –The New Yorker
"The meeting of the East and the West as a narrative of romance is not new territory: E.M. Forster, and lesser lights like M.M. Kaye and Paul Scott, have also presented the colonial encounter as a romance, at times failed, at other times forced. More important, writers from the other side of the colonial divide have come to prominence in recent decades through their own, perhaps more contested, portrayals. Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North was an early classic of this genre." –The Nation
"Tayib Salih's Season of Migration to the North is a clever inversion of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: for in this case an Arab worker leaves his people and goes to Europe in search of employment, finding in the process that he has indeed entered his own heart of darkness." –The Irish Times
"This story might seem like a village tragedy from the Sudan, the homeland of the writer Tayeb Salih, but its resonances carry far beyond the setting. Season of Migration to the North is a brilliant miniature of the plight of Arabs and Africans who find themselves no longer sustained by their past and not yet incorporated into a viable future. Swift and astonishing in its prose, this novel is more instructive than any number of academic books." –The New York Times

“A modern Arabic classic.” –Reuters

“Denys Johnson-Davies...the leading Arabic-English translator of our time.” –Edward Said, The Independent

“Davies has done more than anybody to translate modern Arabic fiction into English and promote it.” –Nagib Mahfouz

Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173023
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173022
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
89 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A literary masterwork from Sudan March 28, 2000
By A Customer
Tayeb Salih's great novel is a compelling satirical rewrite of Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS. In Salih's version, instead of a European intellectual travelling to Africa to be corrupted by his contact with "primitive savagery," the protagonist starts out as an idealistic young man from Sudan who travels northward to Europe, where he is undone by corruption, decadence, and the mutual destructiveness of unhappy love affairs. The novel is cleverly written and well translated, with terrific insights into the relationships of southern and northern hemispheres; the colonized to their colonizers; Arabs and Europeans; and men and women. I've read a lot of Arab novels (and many more African ones); A SEASON OF MIGRATION TO THE NORTH is the best I've read to date.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of knife-like ironies and intelligence . . . December 8, 2006
Postcolonial and more than a little postmodern, this short novel tells a story within a story and goes through a variety of different styles of storytelling, representing a range of perspectives on being African in an Africa both bound in tradition and transformed by the influence of Europe. Born of both worlds, the North and the South, the novel calls to mind Joseph Conrad from its first words, its unnamed narrator speaking to an unseen audience of "gentlemen." And that is only the beginning of many ironies, as the novel interweaves mystery, melodrama, travelogue, bawdy humor, politics, sociology, history, topography, Faustian tale, confession, and some very racy material that comes close to being pure potboiler.

Set in Arab Sudan in the mid-20th century, the book can be read for any of several themes: the exoticism of Africa in the European imagination, the subjugation of women, the peril in the triumph of reason over compassion, the difficulty of determining truth in a world of secrecy and lies, the transformation of tribal village life with the introduction of foreign ideas and technology, and so on. Like the work of literature that it is, the book can be read more than once for its richly complex layers of meaning, where literal and figurative trade places at will. The knife-like edge of a dangerously superior intellect, for example, reappears later in the novel as a murder weapon - not once but twice. Earns a place on any shelf of 20th-century world literature.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read Heart of Darkness First October 19, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's interesting to read reviews of this short novel. Half of the readers see it as a satirical version of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". The other half - who perhaps have never read Conrad - think it's a vain, silly (although lyrically written) tale of a sex-maniac guy who likes to seduce and abandon women. This is one of the inherent problems in a novel which is meant to reference another work. If you were to read "Bored of the Rings" (an awesome parody of Lord of the Rings) without ever reading Lord of the Rings you might think it silly. Read them side by side and you realize the brilliance at work. Not only is that true here as well, but I also do think that Season of Migration to the North stands alone as a work in its own right.

First, if you've never read "Heart of Darkness", look it up on the web and read it. It's online in its full text (it is out of copyright now) and you can read it for free. It's a short novel, just like Season, and should only take you an hour or two. It is a brilliant work, well deserving of its high acclaim. Go on, we'll wait for you to come back.

Now, having read Heart, you can see the many similarities with Season. Both tell of someone starting from their own civilization and venturing out into the "opposite", and being changed by the experience. In Heart, an Englishman ventured into the Congo. In Season, Mustafa - a brilliant but anchorless student - is sent for education up to Cairo and then to London. Rather then becoming "refined" by the experience, he quickly bores with the women continually throwing themselves at his "exotic excitement". He deliberately lies to them about his background, his country's history, the meaning of his culture, and they don't care - they just want to be held by his ebony hands.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much Felt Beyond This Reader's Grasp January 12, 2009
This novel was published in Arabic in 1966 and translated into English in 1969 by Denys Johnson-Davies. It's been called one of the major Arabic novels written in the 1960s as well as an important novel on the subject of a non-Westerner's journey to and return from the West.

The first 30-odd pages were superb, introducing deftly the world of the present-day village in Sudan and one character's earlier years and travel to Europe. Throughout the novel, the atmosphere of the village was conveyed well, particularly -- as mentioned by an earlier reviewer -- in the earthy bantering of a group of old villagers.

After the beginning, though, the novel developed in ways that this reader just couldn't find credible. The body count in England seemed laughably high, and I was thrown by the author's skipping over the decades of the older man's life and education in England, schematic accounts of his adventures, and the lack of a firm conclusion of his part of the story presented in his own voice. The younger man functioned well as a narrator, but why he ended up where he did was also beyond me.

The author seemed to be setting up parallels between travel to the West and the journey inward, between the local village and Western ones, between the two men, and between the behavior of the foreign and local women. Yet many of these were too subtle for this reader to see exactly what the author might be suggesting in each case. That some people risked misfortune if they entered the West without a firm grounding in their own culture? That some wasted their potential if they went abroad without bringing back something of value to their own culture? (And yet the older man seemed to do fairly well for the village for a time after returning.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended reading
This story was a bittersweet ride filled with the richness of Tayeb's memories and regrets. The main character,is a man possessed with a burning desire to reveal the hidden and... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Stan
5.0 out of 5 stars Intercultural relationships and assimilation
Season of Migration to the North is a grim and pessimistic novel about intercultural relationships. The narrator is a young man who has just returned to his native village in Sudan... Read more
Published 17 days ago by Steven Davis
1.0 out of 5 stars Historical word porn...
This was required reading as recommended by IB for my 16 year old. It is full of pornographic wording (if words could be pornographic). Read more
Published 3 months ago by Darryl Sadler
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
This is an interesting read. My professor for Eng 453 made us read it/purchase it. Since the subject for the course was cultural studies this novel gave us a great point of view of... Read more
Published 4 months ago by L. P. Meza
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book
This is a great book and I really enjoyed the introduction essay as well. It is a great book if you are interested in African decolonization.
Published 14 months ago by Lauren J Vargas
4.0 out of 5 stars A very well written novel
A very well written novel. The way it compares two different cultures is brilliant.

He pictured how women are exploited in different cultures. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Waqas
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing and timeless read for all generations.
This novel is extremely influential. Read with caution, because it will change your views about the events around you. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
Published 24 months ago by arqMehdi
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Novel.
A great addition to any library. If you are considering purchasing this novel, please do not hesitate. Read more
Published on March 4, 2012 by Rawad Wehbe
4.0 out of 5 stars The Old Men's Story/Seeds of Redemption
Supposedly one of the best modern novels of the Arab world, Salih's post colonial story loses much in the translation, both from Arabic, which can be quite lyrical, to English, and... Read more
Published on December 23, 2011 by L. King
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star Too Many: must have missed something -- but what?
This may well be a "classic of modern Arabic literature" as one reviewer has put it -- but does that really say anything? Read more
Published on September 25, 2011 by James Connelly
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