This work originally published in the Arabic language is a classic in its sort. First it appeared in a magazine published in Lebanon in the year 1966. Three years later a publication in the form of a book followed. The books tells the story of a man who has travelled from Sudan to the north, to the United Kingdom to further his education at a British university. It was the dream of many young men and women. To go for overseas studies, get a degree and return to your home country to be part of the elite, or the been-to’s.
In this novel we encounter two men who have gone overseas, one in the days of British colonialism, the other in more recent days. While reading this novel you can wonder, as a reader, if there are really two people, or is it just one, who has been split into two people just for literary purposes.
The main character is an elderly man, Mustafa Sa’id, who has settled in a small village along the river Nile. He saysn he has been a trader near the capital city and now he wants to be a good farmer. He marries a local woman. He works hard, but at the same time he keeps his distance. He does not talk about his past. One day some else returns to this very village, where he was born. He works in the capital city as a civil servant at the Ministry of Education. He recently returned from Britain where he studied British poetry. He is the one who tells this story.
In the village bordering the Nile these two men meet. The mysterious Mustafa and the local raconteur. They recognize each other as men who are fluent in English. They can converse in this language of strangers. Step by step we see these two lives come closer and we discover the hidden depths of the life of Mustafa, especially during his days as a student in Britain.
The main theme of this novel does not seem to be the reality and the dreams of people who went north for further studies. The novel is a search for meaning. Is life devoid of meaning or is more to be said of living, either in Sudan or Britain? In the capital city or on the borders of the imposing Nile, drifting with the tides and the seasons? Does on grow up in order to search for meaning in life or is life just an empty adventure.
After the death of Mustafa the raconteur keeps in touch with his widow and their children. He has a special responsibility for these two boys. Mustafa had asked him to look after them. One day the raconteur talks with Hosna, the widow, and the two have now the opportunity to open a special room, where neither of them had ever set one step. It is the shelter of Mustafa, the place where he lived his separate life, where he lived with far away friends. So the relationship with Mustafa does not end but gets a new and imposing dimension.
Tayyib Salih – Season of migration to the north – 1969