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The Translator

The Translator

4.0 4
by Leila Aboulela

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American readers were introduced to the award-winning Sudanese author Leila Aboulela with Minaret, a delicate tale of a privileged young African Muslim woman adjusting to her new life as a maid in London. Now, in The Translator, Aboulela’s first novel, we step back to her extraordinarily assured debut about a widowed Muslim mother living in Aberdeen who falls in love


American readers were introduced to the award-winning Sudanese author Leila Aboulela with Minaret, a delicate tale of a privileged young African Muslim woman adjusting to her new life as a maid in London. Now, in The Translator, Aboulela’s first novel, we step back to her extraordinarily assured debut about a widowed Muslim mother living in Aberdeen who falls in love with a Scottish secular academic.

Sammar is a Sudanese widow working as an Arabic translator at a Scottish university. Since the sudden death of her husband, her young son has gone to live with family in Khartoum, leaving Sammar alone in cold, gray Aberdeen, grieving and isolated. But when she begins to translate for Rae, a Scottish Islamic scholar, the two develop a deep friendship that awakens in Sammar all the longing for life she has repressed. As Rae and Sammar fall in love, she knows they will have to address his lack of faith in all that Sammar holds sacred. An exquisitely crafted meditation on love, both human and divine, The Translator is ultimately the story of one woman’s courage to stay true to her beliefs, herself, and her newfound love.

Editorial Reviews

Kaiama L. Glover
Sammar and Rae’s story is one of division and difference, and of those miraculous places of intersection like love. For both characters, love means having someone to tell their stories to, without fear. It means effacing the boundaries of language, of nation, of religion — all no more than “data that fills forms.” In other words, love translates. It can be that simple, Aboulela suggests. And by the end of this novel, she almost has you believing it.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Sammar, a young Sudanese widow, is working as a translator in a Scottish university when love blossoms between herself and her Scottish supervisor, Rae Isles, a scholar of the Middle East and of Third World politics. A religious Muslim who covers her hair, Sammar has left her young son in Khartoum to be raised by her aunt and quells her loneliness by throwing herself into her job translating terrorist documents for kindly divorc Rae. The two signal their growing love for one another with sympathy (and chastity). On the eve of her trip to Khartoum to see her son and bring him back with her, she confronts Rae, desperate to know if he will accept Islam-since a relationship to her is impossible without marriage, and that marriage is impossible without his conversion. His hesitation reveals the cultural gulf between them, and Sammar is pierced to the quick. Though The Translator is Aboulela's second novel to be released in the U.S., it is the Sudanese-British author's first, published in the U.K. in 1999. (Her third, Minaret, appeared here last year.) With authentic detail and insight into both cultures, Aboulela painstakingly constructs a truly transformative denouement. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sammar is a devout Muslim widow from Sudan who works as an Arabic translator at a university in Aberdeen, Scotland. Scotsman Rae Isles is an agnostic scholar of Middle East studies. In working closely together on Rae's academic projects, the two develop a strong friendship with romantic potential-until religious and philosophical differences get in the way. When an opportunity arises for Sammar to return to her hometown of Khartoum to visit her family and young son, she goes there and decides to stay, until a letter arrives from Scotland that may change everything. Sammar and Rae personify, respectfully and realistically, the cultural struggles playing out in today's world. Sammar's experience as a professional immigrant woman in search of peace but still caught between two differing worlds should resonate with many readers internationally. Aboulela (Minaret) deftly handles the contrasting settings of Aberdeen and Khartoum and presents a rare and timely perspective. Her writing is restrained and evocative, subtle and graceful. First published in 1999 in Britain, this work is highly recommended for large fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/06.]-Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A consideration of grief and love interrupted. Aboulela's lovely, brief story encompasses worlds of melancholy and gulfs between cultures in its depiction of Sammar, a Sudanese woman born in the UK, married in Africa to her beloved cousin Tarig and quickly widowed after a car accident in the gray, chilly Scottish city of Aberdeen. Leaving her baby son Amir in Khartoum, Sammar returns to Aberdeen to spend four years in mourning, emerging only when hope of life is rekindled by the increasingly serious attention of Rae Isles, the Middle-Eastern historian and university lecturer for whom she works. The author's pared-down, lyrical style subtly evokes the contrasts between cool Europe and warm Africa; the encompassing nature of Sammar's Muslim belief; her emotional containment and alienation; and her fearful optimism at Rae's declaration of love. But Rae hesitates when asked to convert, and for Sammar to marry a non-Muslim would go against the sharia. Exposed, she retreats into numbness. Returning on a visit to the "sunshine and poverty" of Khartoum, she decides to stay, resigning from her Aberdeen job. As in Minaret (2005), Aboulela triangulates her narrative between the three points of faith, exile and emotional attachment, but here grants her grave heroine and the reader the satisfaction of a miraculous ending. A strikingly poised, cherishable novel.

Product Details

Publication date:
African Writers Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.52(d)

Meet the Author

Leila Aboulela was born in 1964 and grew up in Khartoum, learning English at an American primary school and later at The Sisters' School, a private Catholic school. She took a degree in Economics at the University of Khartoum and then travelled to Britain to study for an M.Sc. in Statistics at the London School of Economics. In 1990 she moved to Scotland with her husband and their three children. She started writing in 1992 while lecturing in Statistics and working as a part-time Research Assistant. Her first stories were broadcast on BBC Radio and an anthology Coloured Lights was published by Polygon in 2001. The Translator was first published to critical acclaim in 1999. It was long-listed for the Orange Prize 2000 and also long - listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards 2001. Leila Aboulela won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000 for 'The Museum', published in Heinemann's short-story collection, Opening Spaces.

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The Translator 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read the Arabic version ; and it was a magnificent piece of fiction. It is the counter part of Al Tayib Salih's "Season of Migration to the North "; while Salih's theme is about the complicated and conflicted relation between East and West, in Aboulela's novel we see a harmonic world where love is the alternative and better world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was very excited to get the book.. it wasn't on the shelves and they had to order it for me. The book just did not deliver- overhyped.
CathyB More than 1 year ago
A story of a young Sudanese widow, Sammar, working as a translator for Rae Isles, an Islamist. What starts off as mutual respect, turns to an unspoken love. One that will ultimately not last the test of time and faith. AN enjoyable read that I recommend to all.