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Lyrics Alley – Leila Aboulela

April 10, 2013

“Can’t you make yourself do it? Like homework?”
“No, it’s not like that. Besides, I don’t care for it any more. No, that’s not true, I do care but I don’t have hope that I can amount to anything as a poet. After university, I am going to join the family business; I am not going to become a poet, so there is no point in wasting my time on it. Every family has a vocation …. Father has invested so much in my education and Nassir is not pulling his weight. I can’t deviate and be something else.”
I think the novel gathered momentum for me from this point. Will the good, sensible son become a poet? Will he deviate and follow his wish, and at what cost? As I read this book, I wondered, “if we knew in advance what it would cost us to realise our dreams, what would our answer be?”
I greatly enjoyed this book, wondering till the end, whether Nur is able to become a poet and thereby, not only going against the wishes of his very wealthy family but also against a country that views artists with suspicion.
This novel is not just about Nur however; there’s Nabilah, the glamorous Egyptian second wife of the patriarch Mahmoud Abuzeid.
To say she detests living in Umdurman (not even Khartoum!) is an understatement. Living in her westernised quarters, she keeps herself to herself and seeks to instill in her children an Egyptian sophistication she knows is lacking in her husband’s household, and country as a whole.
But in a polygamous family, jealousy can and does thrive and inevitably, Nabilah is dealt a blow in the most painful of ways.
The repercussions of this incident are felt by Mahmoud, whose world, like his own country starts changing.
I sympathised very much with this character; his ability to embrace modernity – he convinced his brother to allow his niece, his son’s betrothed to go to school and then on to university to study medicine – but also his sense of responsibility and his attachment to his country and to that corner of his country, Umdurman; the attachment Nabilah failed to understand.

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