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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'I am sorry to hear about your broken engagement,' he is saying.

I mumble something in reply.

Hisham's voice sounds distant as if he is looking away, 'The need for money can make the throat go tight. But some people have neither morals nor restraint.'

The last thing I want is to discuss my ex. So I make my voice light, 'You've become a philosopher, Hisham.'

'Yes. And I'm intrigued by the Circle Line – by all things that are inaccurately named.'

'Pardon?'

'In the Underground. I took the Circle Line and it didn't bring me back where I started. Apparently the trains no longer run a continuous circle. Instead they travel in a semicircle and there are now actually two routes.'

I remember now, this quirkiness of his. How he was sometimes geeky, sometimes soulful. How he earnestly revealed information, things he must have read about or remembered from TV. 'Merlin is a kind of falcon. The Nile is the longest river. Seaweed is edible.' Now he wants me to show him around London.

We agree to meet up tomorrow; perhaps it won't be as hot as today. It is at this time of year that I miss Abu Dhabi the most. I miss the spacious malls and the blast of the air conditioners. Here, it is as if the sun of the Empire has come to pay respect. London swells with planeloads of tourists. Tourists with big appetites, cash heavy, mouths watering, eyes popping.

'Bloody foreigners!' screeches a harassed mother as they stampede her and her infant, getting on a bus in Oxford Street. 'Every bloody summer.'

The buses are full of women. Women with pushchairs and little old women, shaking away. Dreamy schoolgirls stalked by bullies. The slow red buses are dignified like the Queen.

City of generous absorption, of waddling matrons in black abayas and face veils consulting Harley Street specialists, of sulky adolescents seeking distraction in Madame Tussauds. Ancient Egypt's gold, lying cold in a museum. The tennis at Wimbledon, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. And an order, a fairness; an obligation to make things better even in some little way. Under Marble Arch I feel the weight of history.

In the streets: nose rings, dreadlocks, skinheads, pin dug through an eyebrow, man dressed as woman, dog dressed as man, a placard raised high – Jesus Is Coming.

But this is also a city of fashion. Nearly everyone looks good in London. It's the hair and the new clothes. Londoners make an effort, having faith in the pages of glossy magazines. Or else it's turbans and saris: Nigerian women in paradise greens and head wraps so large only they could carry them.

Down in the Underground station it is warmer. I wonder what Hisham will be like after all these years. I wonder why I never looked him up on Facebook. Jubilee line, Metropolitan line. Crystal Palace and Marble Arch. What will I tell him about the Circle Line, and how Oxford Circus is not a circus?

He can't truly know London until he is here in winter with its fog and gloves and Christmas lights. There are secrets, then, under the dark coats and bare trees. In the wisps of smoke from breath and street lights. It is also important to know that in Speakers' Corner, not everyone is insane. Not everyone.

* * *

We meet off Regent Street in a café with pictures of dead Hollywood stars, and an American slant to the menu. Ten in the morning and it feels early for London. Clean, not too much traffic, not too much heat.

A sudden sticky nostalgia when I first see him. His shoulders are broader, his hair is cut short. I briefly crave the frenzy of our younger selves, itchy swimsuits and sunburn, the blast of the sea, our parents in the background, genial and laughing. What if I never have children? Hisham orders a cappuccino and I order an iced Coffee Extravaganza, trying it for the first time. It comes tall and sweet, sealed at the top with thick white cream. It tastes so good, I can't believe it.

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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