review THE TRANSLATOR

Leila Aboulela takes me straight into the life of a woman on the edge of the world of Sudan and Scotland, on the edge of islam and the modern western world. 

Sammar is a translator at a university in Scotland, she works with her boss Rae Isles, an islam- specialist. He has written a book on the illusion of the islamic threat. Sammar falls in love with him, but at the same time she keep her distance as Rae is not a muslim. Both Rae and Sammar have had an relation, Sammar has a small son, Amir. 

Sammar not only keeps her distance from Rae, but she also lives her secluded life. Suddenly she changes her attitude, she buys new clothes, she buys make-up, she renovates her flat, she takes driving-lessons. Probably this is all due to her feelings for Rae.

Before Sammar wants to enter into into a relationship with Rae she want him to be a muslim. He has professed his love, but he also needs to profess his faith by saying  the shahadah (confession of faith), this will suffice. Sammar explains to Rae the content and meaning of the islamic faith (and I wondered: Rae is an islamic specialist and scholar, did not he know?).

Sammar gets an appointmet to do a stint of work in Egypt, afterwards she moves to Sudan, to stay with her relatives.  She decides to stay there for a long period and settle. She thinks a lot about Rae, but she does not get any sign of life from him. After many, many moons and months she gets a letter from a mutual acquaintance: Rae has professed his faith. She invites Rae to come to Sudan and one day he is at the door of her house and he tells about the change in his life. In this happy ending Rae says he lives by her admiration.

It struck me that Sammar just wants to hear the confession, the words spoken, that is all. She does not look for a life-changing experience. To me it seems an outward experience. At the same time she makes clear that to her the islam is all encompassing and decisive in looking for a husband. The writer does not manage to write convincingly about the change in the life and conviction of Rae Isles.

In one or two sentences Sammar is very negative about Scottish Calvinism. Well, in Scottish Calvinism more is needed than just a spoken confession. This statement by Sammar is like an inselberg in the landscape of the book. Or does she want to show islam is far better than this calvinism?

The writer tends to make general statements about Africa (like the African sun, not the Egyptian or the Sudanese sun!). 

The book reminded me of christian books in which a person is converted to Jesus Christ and the happy end has come. 

 Leila Aboulela – The Translator – 1999

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semper

I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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