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The Kindness of Enemies: A Novel Paperback – January 10, 2017
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Praise for THE KINDNESS OF ENEMIES:
An absorbing novel . . . reminds us of the complexity of the web woven by those threads of faith, nationality, politics and history.”New York Times Book Review
A rich, multilayered story, a whole syllabus of compelling topics. As a novelist, Aboulela moves confidently between dramatizing urgent, contemporary issues and providing her audience with sufficient background to follow these discussions about the changing meaning of jihad, the history of Sufism and the racial politics of the war on terror.”Washington Post
Our political narrative of the war on terror too often reads like Harry Potter,’ with forces of good and evil neatly and absolutely demarcated. Aboulela has written a book for grown-ups, one whose complexity is born of compassion, that speaks more forcefully than a thousand opinion pieces. By charting the pattern of human folly down the generations, she has done more than breathe life into legend. She has made the story of an obscure 19th century warrior topical and the story of three ordinary citizens in 21st century Scotland timeless.”Anthony Marra, San Francisco Chronicle
"Riveting . . . [a novel] about the wish and murmur of lives lived centuries ago what they tell us and how we exalt them, long for them, look to them to make our existence sufferable and better still, interesting. There is a tremendous amount going on in The Kindness of Enemiesbut it does not crowd the reader. Rather, it hums in hushed and meditative tones through prisoners of war in historic and contemporary fantasy rooted in reality."LA Times
Radiant with historical detail and vivid descriptions . . . The entire novel is, in many ways, an extended rumination on the complexities of being Muslim in the West, but it is also an invitation to see identity as more variegated than the either/or distillations of the Global War on Terror . . . an excellent historical lens through which to project a complex and, seemingly, contradictory Islamic identity from the past into the present . . . The Kindness of Enemies reads as a well-crafted but quiet plea for the kind of humanism that once allowed enemies to respect one another.”Los Angeles Review of Books
Leila Aboulela’s The Kindness of Enemies...recreates the fascinating story of the rebel of the Caucasus, Imam Samil, a 19th-century warrior who battled to defend his home against the invading Russians and united the Muslims of the region under his iconic leadership. Weaving the story of his relationship with a Georgian princess he kidnapped into a more contemporary story of mistaken terrorism, we learn much about the nature of loss, the legacy of exile, and the meaning of home at a time in our world when all three are high in our minds.”
Mariella Forstrup, The Guardian Best Books of 2015
"A richly imagined novel about a half-Russian, half-Sudanese professor whose studies of a 19th-century Muslim leader become a portal into his world. The story alternates between two narratives: his in the Caucasus Mountains of the 1830s and hers in the present day.”Travel + Leisure
"In this remarkable and highly suspenseful novel Leila Aboulela moves back and forth between contemporary Scotland, where everyone is on the watch for terrorism, and nineteenth century Russia, where Iman Shamil is fighting for his freedom. The Kindness of Enemies is a wonderful evocation of faith and fate and what it means to be an outsider."Margot Livesey
Aboulela challenges readers with thought-provoking ideas about the meaning of jihad,then and now, and demonstrates how ignorance of another’s beliefs prohibits us from embracing our common humanity.”Library Journal
Aboulela, winner of the Caine Prize, pens an ambitious tri-continental story covering more than 200 years and tackling themes of Islamic faith, personal heritage, and the disparity between academic and personal reconstructions of historic events...a nuanced story of identity and sense of place.”Publishers Weekly
"Aboulela seamlessly moves between 2010 Scotland and the stories set in the nineteenth century and shows how complex geopolitical processes can lead to unlikely alliances...an astute exploration of the fluidity of identity that proves just how ineffective a check-the-boxes approach to the issue can truly be."Booklist
Aboulela makes it clear not only that the current conflict between East and West has old roots, but also that "East" and "West" are little more than convenient fictions. . . . . Aboulela is a great storyteller, and she writers with clarity and elegance. A pleasurable and engaging read for fans of both contemporary and historical fiction.”Kirkus Reviews
Praise for LYRICS ALLEY:
Aboulela’s vivid . . . fleet and engrossing narrative . . . [is full of] a generosity of spirit that extends to all her characters.” The New York Times Book Review
In beautiful, subtle prose . . . Aboulela explores themes of love, faith, and divided families with a tender restraint.” Marie Claire (UK)
Each scene is rich with period detail . . . Aboulela has the gift of making her readers care about her characters. This she achieves partly by making us privy to their thoughts, and revealing to us all their conflicts, contradictions, petty vanities, hopes, and amnitions. . . . [She] has created a story for all the senses, one to be savored at leisure.” Aminatta Forna, Financial Times
Beautifully rendered . . . The prose is smooth and clear. . . . As a tale of stricken love between two souls, Lyrics Alley is impressive.”M Lynx Qualey, The Guardian
Leila Aboulela’s Lyrics Alley gives us the rich and complex world of a Sudanese patriarch in the 1950s who presides over a household containing two wives, various nieces, two sonsa new world full of modern ambitions and ancient problems. I read it with the delight one has suddenly stumbling on lush and abundant hidden gardens behind foreign city walls, various with its own life and laws, and infinitely satisfying.” Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress
"Leila Aboulela writes with tenderness and sensitivity about the hopes of a country on the verge of independence. Through the eyes of the Abuzeid family, we witness the competing claims of the political and the intimate, of modernity and tradition, of duty and individual freedom.The resulting narrative is at once compelling and illuminating, full of the color and cadence of Aboulela's homeland." Tahmima Anam, author of A Golden Age
[A] graceful and elegantly told saga . . . Aboulela writes with a light touch. . . . She uses words to powerful and sometimes surprising effect, language that seems to spring naturally from the very environment she’s describing. . . . This beautiful book is a testament to what might have been as well as what might be.” Jane Charteris, Literary Review
Rich in detail and generous in spirit toward its complex characters, [Lyrics Alley] showcases Aboulela’s talent for connecting political and personal upheaval. [An] elegantly written family epic that brings to mind Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy.” Kirkus Reviews
Haunting . . . Keeps the reader gripped . . . A tale of powerful feelings and potent words . . . this visceral, epic novel . . . gives fascinating insights into Sudanese society, with different characters embodying the dramatic clash between tradition and modernity. . . . Vividly evoking the alleyways of Sudan, Egypt, and Britain, [Lyrics Alley] also movingly and meticulously traces the hidden pathways of the mind and heart with all its anger, shame, hate and love.” Anita Sethi, The Telegraph (UK)
A tender love story; a family saga, and a portrait of 1950s Sudan teetering on the brink of modernity.” Lee Randall, The Scotsman
A superb family epic . . . Vivid, beautifully original.” Lesley McDowell, The Herald (Glasgow)
[Aboulela’s] breakthrough novel . . . Real, compelling, and ultimately moving . . . Highly recommended for readers who enjoy family sagas set against a political backdrop, such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun.” Library Journal (starred review)
"An assured and highly readable portrait of a family in flux and two societiesSudan and Egypt--on the cusp on momentous changes. . . . Lyrics Alley is an evocative description of the struggle between tradition and modernization, a conflict that is still being fought in present-day Islamic culture." New Internationalist (3 stars)
Praise for THE TRANSLATOR:
"Aboulela has a talent for expressing the simple wonders of unbroken faith. Just as deftly, she uncovers the intricacies of how such faith can be challengedsuddenly, subtly. . . . Beautiful passages on Islam's essential purity and poetry... A sensitive portrayal of love and faith."" Kaiama L. Glover, The New York Times (Editors' Choice)
Aboulela’s refined descriptions reveal intense emotion with staggering restraint, our attention assured with her first words.” Christine Thomas, Chicago Tribune
Her writing is restrained and evocative, subtle and graceful.” Jenn B. Stidham, Library Journal
With authentic detail and insight into both cultures, Aboulela painstakingly constructs a truly transformative denouement.” Publishers Weekly
Above all, the book offers the uncluttered pleasure of a story that feels simultaneously reduced to its essence and full to the brim.” Elsbeth Lindner, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Aboulela's prose is amazing. She handles intense emotions in a contained yet powerful way, lending their expressions directness and originality, and skillfully capturing the discrete sensory impressions that compound to form a mood." San Francisco Chronicle
A story of love and faith all the more moving for the restraint with which it is written.” J. M. Coetzee
Aboulela’s lovely, brief story encompasses worlds of melancholy and gulfs between cultures . . . A miraculous ending .A strikingly poised, cherishable novel.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)
A subtle investigation into the meaning of exile and home, doubt and faith, loss and love. Aboulela’s writing is always beautifully observed, her voice one of restrained lyricism: She is a writer of rare and original talent.” Duncan McLean
In Sammar . . . [Aboulela] has created a personification of Islam that is as genuine as it is complex. . . . It is refreshing to read a novel that gives Muslims their due. For Aboulela, faith is not an ossified overbearing cross that crushes its followers. . . . It is a liberating force. The Translator is an exceptionally well-crafted and beautifully written novel. . . . Aboulela shows the rich possibilities of living in the West with different, non-Western ways of knowing and thinking.” The Sunday Herald (Glasgow)
Aboulela is a wonderfully poetic writer. . . . It is a pleasure to read a novel so full of feeling and yet so serene.” The Guardian
An enveloping story of the tentative possibilities between a man and a woman, and between faiths: two people, and perhaps people, between nations. It is an apt, resonant caution filled with love and poignant understanding of the world. It is exactly what fiction ought to be.” Todd McEwen
A lyrical journey about exile, loss, and love . . . poetry in motion.” The Sunday Times (London)
Praise for MINARET:
Harbors something remarkable beneath commonplace trappings . . . Lit up by a highly unusual sensibility and world view, so rarefied and uncompromising that it is likely to throw the reader out of kilter. . . . Her delicacy of touch is to be complimented.” Chandrahas Choudhury, San Francisco Chronicle
Absorbing . . . Though her writing is simple, even bald, Aboulela has vivid descriptive powers.” Ella Taylor, LA Weekly
She draws Najwa’s odyssey of exile, loss and found faith beautifully.” Publishers Weekly
This simple near-parable of a story successfully combines a tale of inexperience and cultural confusion with an insider’s view of the conflicts and complexities within the immigrant and Muslim communities. A low-key, affecting account of one bruised young woman’s search for wisdom and solace.” Kirkus Reviews
Clear and precise writing, sympathetic characters, and positive portrayals of Muslim religious practices lend this elegantly crafted novel broad appeal.” Starr E. Smith, Library Journal
A novel that unpacks complex emotional baggage with deceptive sleight of hand.” Emma Hagestadt, The Independent (UK)
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Top customer reviews
Book 2 is a far better book. It is more interesting, better written, and far more engrossing -- from beginning to end. The characters are more fascinating than the modern day persons in Book 1, (which takes place in Scotland and The Sudan), especially the primary players. The first-person story-teller of Book 1 is, unfortunately, not very likable and suffers from over-self-indulgence, spending too much time in her head, and with serious identity confusion, whereas the 3 or 4 primary characters in Book 2 are each and collectively sympathetic, likable and almost regal.
How this writing, plotting, and literary dichotomy between the modern day and 1850’s stories occurred is a mystery. It’s almost as if the writing itself reflects a possible decline of elegance and sophistication implicit in modern society. But its divisive effect dimmed my appreciation for the author’s skill and imagination. A reader really needs Book 2 to endure the much less appealing story in Book 1, despite the unsuccessful attempt to insert a Muslim “terrorist” sub-plot at one point. Luckily the episodes in each book are relatively short, and so one is switched back and forth quickly between the stories, thus preserving an overall sense of interest in the whole.
The really good aspect of both stories is that each is populated by numerous characters of differing genetic and cultural backgrounds. Thus, their sociological and ethnic identities are either mixed or centered in specific cultural certainties and ethos. Russian, Chechen, and Sudanese cultural backgrounds are central. In Book 2, the story revolves around the then-led Russian Tsar Nicholas’ long battle to annex Georgia from the fiercely independent (and today we might say “backward”) Islamic Chechens from their mountainous villages and their indomitable leader Shamil. In Book 1, the main character Natasha Wilson (having changed her family name from its original Sudanese Hussein) fights for her own identity. She is ½ black Sudanese and ½ white Russian. In Book 2, Alexander, the son of Shamil, loses his fight to re-integrate himself back into Muslim Chechen society after 15 years as a not unwilling hostage growing up in St. Petersburg. There is no denouement for either story or the book as a single entity. The story just stops at the end, similar to many episodes throughout the book, with nothing to bring closure to events. The end of both stories is disappointing.
What struck me (as a parent and as a citizen of the world) is the primary statement made by the book about how, when children are made by parents who have moved widely in the world to find their mates, little attention is given to their ultimate identity when they grow up and just how they, as adults, will successfully form their own sense of belonging to wherever it is they settle. Thus, an unintended consequence of having children with mixed cultural backgrounds often imposes on those children stress, anxiety and identity confusion despite the positive aspect of an immensely rich cultural life, with the additional joys of multilingualism. In this book, some of the main characters who were held as hostages (as either children or adults) adopt the values and sensibilities of their captors, just as do those also who are not held hostage but rather make conscious, deliberate decisions about where to live. It seems a natural, if unintended, consequence of having multicultural children.
The best part of the book occurs when a hostage exchange is made by the Russians and Chechens. In a strong way, neither of the exchanged adults really wants to return to their former life.
All in all, the book as a whole is a 3.55, with Book 1 (modern day) at 2.40 and Book 2 (1850s Russia) at 4.75.
The author draws her characters and their surroundings so skillfully that they begin to come alive after just a sentence or two. After that, the characters expose their personalities bit by bit, but never become totally predictable. Like real people, they always seem to keep back a bit, perhaps because the author does not indulge herself, as many do, by following out every bathetic thread of their lives so as to satisfy her own fondness for her 'children.'
There are no villains here, just human beings trying to cope with the larger events that affect their lives.