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Excerpt from Elsewhere Home by Leila Aboulela, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Elsewhere Home

by Leila Aboulela

Elsewhere Home by Leila Aboulela X
Elsewhere Home by Leila Aboulela
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    Feb 2019, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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Print Excerpt

The Circle Line

Cheese melts in London like nowhere else. Old mixes with new like nowhere else. The city is blessed. But a girl can sob her heart out in London's streets and no one will stop, no one will raise an eyebrow, no one will ask why. Oh, city of opportunities, career ladders and fame, you promised me I could start afresh, make my fortune. Rise and cruise up high. But I age and watch the chances fold in, the paths converge. I live the narrowing and the shutting down.

This shrinkage makes for a modest life, a failure. It opens the trapdoor on what I thought was beneath me: the cesspool of bitter and delirious crime. Last year my fiancé was arrested for money laundering. I had no inkling of it, not the vaguest idea. Lucky you didn't go down with him, people tell me. They can't be bothered with the state of my heart.

After I broke off with him, my mother took to sending me alternative suitors. It is easier to meet them here in London. In Abu Dhabi we would have to be chaperoned, or at least pretend to be. Here we can be alone. Here it's all quicker: from the awkward first meeting to seeing through the veneer of appearances, nurturing a spark, aborting a project before it becomes formal. Here we are allowed a more organic start.

I wake to the buzz of a message from her. We Skype while I eat my toast. She is three hours ahead of me and chirpy. 'After our last tragic experience, we need to stick to families that we know.'

It is nice of her to say 'our' to include herself in my disgrace. But it could also be a ploy to soften me. I know her tricks. She goes on, with confidence, 'Remember Hisham, the son of Dr Suad? You must remember him from that time we met up in Alexandria. How old were you then? Thirteen or fourteen? I gave him your number. He is only in London for a few days. You must meet up.'

I flick back two decades to a snapshot of Hisham, skinny in a navy swimsuit and poking at a patch of seaweed. He is saying, 'It's edible! It's edible!' No one else shares his excitement. At the age of fourteen, I already knew about crushes, I knew who I fancied and who I didn't. At the age of fourteen, I assessed Hisham and concluded that he was not my type.

'I'm busy,' I say to my mother.

'You are thirty-four.'

'Thirty-three.' My birthday is in November.

Her mood changes, 'In a few years' time, the situation will no longer be a joke.'

I have heard this lecture time and time again. Years flying, fertility falling; how I'm becoming more and more set in my ways, how no man is perfect. 'So what is the catch with this one?' I ask. These suitors always have a defect. The first one she sent was too short; the second only spoke to say that he hated London and the third should have been right – three is a good number, after all – but he confessed that his family had put pressure on him to meet me while he was actually in love with another girl, unsuitable no doubt. The fourth was too religious.

'You,' my mother sighs. 'You are the only obstacle.'

* * *

He phones me as I step into Hyde Park. Before I break into my after-work jog and start to breathe heavily. It's sunny today. Girls stretch out on the grass, their lipstick melting in the sun. I stride past ghetto blasters and smelly dogs, tepid ice cream handed down to children. Hisham tells me he's staying in a hotel in Bayswater. He's left the NGO with which he'd spent eighteen months in Darfur. In a few days' time, he will take the train to Edinburgh to visit his brother who is studying there.

'I'm giving private Arabic lessons in the evenings,' I say. 'It's amazing how many people now want to learn. And they're willing to pay well for it!'

He laughs and says that sounds good, that sounds interesting. I stand still and look at the playground. An overweight Arab boy is panting over the sand pit. His Filipino nanny stands over him, her skinny arms on her hips. This job has taken her from her lush homeland, through Doha or Bahrain. For a few months she will walk London's tired grass. In holiday photos and video clips, she will be an exotic flower in the background.

Excerpted from Elsewhere Home copyright © 2018 by Leila Aboulela. "The Circle Line" originally appeared in Gulf Coast Magazine in 2017. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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