Season of Migration to the North
Here's my Spin title! This novel was chosen as "the most important Arab novel of the 20th century." I....am not entirely sure why, as it didn't blow me away, but it did have a lot of subtle things to say about colonialism.
Our narrator, who is nameless, is a Sudanese man who has spent years studying in Europe. Now he is back in a newly-independent Sudan, ready to work hard in Khartoum for the advancement of his people. He visits his home village on the Nile,* where he meets all the people he has known all his life -- an a newcomer, Mustafa Sa'eed, who lives as an ordinary resident of the village with a wife and two sons.
Sa'eed, however, is not an ordinary villager at all, and tells our narrator (who has heard of him) his story. He lived in London for many years, and was a prominent economist. He was semi-adopted by an English couple, married an Englishwoman, and had endless clandestine affairs with more English women. And he eventually murdered a woman, was put on very public trial, and went home to Sudan. After confiding all this, Sa'eed disappears in a flood and leaves our narrator entrusted with the care of his wife and sons.
Our narrator lives in Khartoum with his wife and child, but visits home and carefully pays for the boys' educations. Hosna, Sa'eed's wife, is the subject of gossip because she does not want to remarry, although she has suitors. And how will it all end?
The novel spends a lot of time meditating on opposites that are not always as opposite as they seem. Europe and Africa, men and women, tradition and modernity...but if Europe is 'the land of hanky-panky,' what of the old man who calls it that, who has spent his life pursuing innumerable women? (And speaking of women, none of them seem to get much of a deal, no matter where they're from.)
It was fine, but I don't think it was really my kind of novel.
*I kept looking at Google Maps, trying to figure out where this home village was. Every time I thought I had it pinned, there would be a little more information which proved me wrong, and I'd have to go look again. I think I did eventually get it right!