Aboulela's third novel, inspired by the life of her uncle, the poet Hassan Awad Aboulela, offers a delightfully quixotic view of northern Sudan in the 1950s on the brink of its independence from Britain and Egypt. Nur is the favored son of the wealthy Abuzeid family, destined to take over the family business, until he is severely injured in an accident. Mahmoud, Nur's father, is both optimist and pragmatist, eager to embrace contemporary mores yet firmly rooted to his homeland. Mahmoud's two wives—Nur's deeply traditional and veiled mother, Waheeba, and Nabilah, a young and homesick Egyptian—have conflicts that swell and erupt in both predictable and surprising ways. The characters are lovingly and precisely rendered, and Aboulela (The Translator) describes the impact of Nur's disability with keen detail and noteworthy empathy. Though the novel offers few glimpses into life outside the Abuzeid's sheltered enclave, paying scant attention to the history and turmoil of an era that left Sudan in a lengthy civil war, Aboulela provides fine insight into the practice of Islam, especially through the children's tutor's thoughts and words, as well as a thoroughly engaging if romanticized exploration of the universal tensions between modernity and tradition, commerce and art, faith and doubt. (Mar.)
Short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South Asia and Europe)
Long listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction
“Aboulela’s vivid . . . fleet and engrossing narrative . . . [is full of] a generosity of spirit that extends to all her characters.”The New York Times Book Review
“Leila Aboulela’s Lyrics Alley gives us the rich and complex world of a Sudanese patriarch in the 1950s who presides over a household containing two wives, various nieces, two sonsa new world full of modern ambitions and ancient problems. I read it with the delight one has suddenly stumbling on lush and abundant hidden gardens behind foreign city walls, various with its own life and laws, and infinitely satisfying.”Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress
“[Aboulela’s] breakthrough novel . . . Real, compelling, and ultimately moving . . . Highly recommended for readers who enjoy family sagas set against a political backdrop, such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun.”Library Journal (starred review)
“Rich in detail and generous in spirit toward its complex characters, [Lyrics Alley] showcases Aboulela’s talent for connecting political and personal upheaval. [An] elegantly written family epic that brings to mind Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy.”Kirkus Reviews
“Haunting . . . Keeps the reader gripped . . . A tale of powerful feelings and potent words . . . this visceral, epic novel . . . gives fascinating insights into Sudanese society, with different characters embodying the dramatic clash between tradition and modernity. . . . Vividly evoking the alleyways of Sudan, Egypt, and Britain, [Lyrics Alley] also movingly and meticulously traces the hidden pathways of the mind and heart with all its anger, shame, hate and love.”The Telegraph (UK)
“Each scene is rich with period detail . . . Aboulela has the gift of making her readers care about her characters. This she achieves partly by making us privy to their thoughts, and revealing to us all their conflicts, contradictions, petty vanities, hopes, and amnitions. . . . [She] has created a story for all the senses, one to be savored at leisure.”Financial Times
“In beautiful, subtle prose . . . Aboulela explores themes of love, faith, and divided families with a tender restraint.”Marie Claire (UK)
"An assured and highly readable portrait of a family in flux and two societies--Sudan and Egypt--on the cusp on momentous changes. . . . Lyrics Alley is an evocative description of the struggle between tradition and modernization, a conflict that is still being fought in present-day Islamic culture."--New Internationalist (3 stars)
“A tender love story; a family saga, and a portrait of 1950s Sudan teetering on the brink of modernity.”The Scotsman
"Leila Aboulela writes with tenderness and sensitivity about the hopes of a country on the verge of independence. Through the eyes of the Abuzeid family, we witness the competing claims of the political and the intimate, of modernity and tradition, of duty and individual freedom. The resulting narrative is at once compelling and illuminating, full of the color and cadence of Aboulela's homeland."Tahmima Anam, author of A Golden Age
“A superb family epic . . . Vivid, beautifully original.”Lesley McDowell, The Herald (Glasgow)
“[A] graceful and elegantly told saga . . . Aboulela writes with a light touch. . . . She uses words to powerful and sometimes surprising effect, language that seems to spring naturally from the very environment she’s describing. . . . This beautiful book is a testament to what might have been as well as what might be.”Jane Charteris, Literary Review
This breakthrough novel by the author of Minaret and The Translator recounts the story of the Abuzeid family of Sudan—and a country on the brink of change in the 1950s as British rule nears its end. The Abuzeids are a wealthy, powerful clan, but they are not immune to the conflict between the traditions of the past and the pull of modernization. This struggle is most evident in the animosity between the two wives of patriarch Mahmoud—the Sudanese Waheeba, who values the old ways, and the Egyptian-born Nabilah, who feels suffocated by village life—and in the desires of Mahmoud's niece, Soraya, for both marriage and career. These conflicts erupt when Mahmoud's son, Nur, suffers a catastrophic injury. Somehow, despite great pain, these characters learn to make personal sacrifices and find a way to compromise. Their stories, revealed through the novel's multiple points of view, are real, compelling, and ultimately moving. VERDICT Highly recommended for readers who enjoy family sagas set against a political backdrop, such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. [See "Prepub Exploded," BookSmack!, 9/16/10.]—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
A wealthy Muslim family in 1950s Sudan must deal with the challenges—and opportunities—of a changing world.
Director of a successful trading company, Mahmoud Abuzeid has an enviable, if complicated life. With two wives and four children, he straddles two worlds, insulated by his money and influence. His first wife Hajjah Waheeba is a traditional—and illiterate—Sudanese woman who is happy to remain in the family compound. Nabilah, his much-younger Egyptian-born second wife, yearns for the cosmopolitan attractions of her native Cairo. Her sophistication and intelligence represent the future to Mahmoud, who prefers her company. Waheeba's son Nur, the family heir-apparent, has progressive tendencies like his father, although he is happily betrothed to his teenage cousin Soraya. The two are sweetly in love, but their future looks bleak after Nur is paralyzed during a swimming accident. Reluctant to bind his niece to an invalid, Mahmoud insists they break it off. Soraya, who continues to have feelings for Nur, throws herself into her studies, even enrolling in medical school. But eventually she agrees to marry Nur's best friend Tuf Tuf. The news breaks Nur's heart but ignites his creativity, leading him to become an in-demand poet and lyricist for popular musicians—a move which rankles the more conservative family members. Meanwhile, tensions between the two wives reach the breaking point when Waheeba arranges a secret circumcision for Nabilah's six-year-old daughter Ferial, a custom Nabilah (and Mahmoud) find barbaric. This subsequently drives a wedge between Mahmoud and both his women, as he struggles to do the right thing for his family, especially Nur, who depends on the care of his mother. And all of this unfolds as Sudan struggles for independence from Britain. Rich in detail and generous in spirit toward its complex characters, this concise follow-up to The Translator (2006) showcases Aboulela's talent for connecting political and personal upheaval.
Elegantly written family epic that brings to mind Naguib Mahfouz's TheCairo Trilogy.