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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'Have another one,' he says. I am shocked at this suggestion, intrigued. I say no. It will be greedy, all that ice and cream.

The second glass lasts longer. I sip through the straw and there is caramel at the bottom. 'There's caramel at the bottom,' I say, and offer him some. He shakes his head. I was four when my parents moved to Abu Dhabi.

Flushed with new money, they fed me on McDonalds and Pizza Hut, indulged me until I refused to eat anything else. I ate nothing but junk food for two years until I fell ill. It was a struggle to wean me off it, get me to eat a solid meal. For a long time anything green felt strange and tickly in my mouth.

'How long will you keep hiding in London?' he asks.

I am taken aback and launch into a long and hectic explanation. I brag about how regularly I jog in the park and about the new car I am buying. He must never feel sorry for me.

He says he's burnt out after eighteen months in Darfur. He says he can't talk about what it was like in the camps. He spreads his palms out to take in our surroundings, the comfy seats, the strident leftovers on people's plates.

'You're too soft for that kind of work,' I say.

He laughs instead of getting annoyed. He says, 'Maybe this is what getting older means, becoming disappointed in our own selves. And now I need to adjust to normal chitchat and the kind of everyday life where there isn't an urgent situation every two minutes. But I won't look for another job yet. I'll wait till my savings run out.'

He says that he's writing a story about a university professor. He begins to recite it out loud from memory: 'Hunched, the professor gazed into his glass of whiskey and slowly moved it round and round. The ice clinked. The professor said (and his voice was just a little slurred, his tone as if he was going to tell a secret) "I believe the earth is going to go round and round, round and round forever … It will never stop."'

'Is that all?' I say. Through the window I can see the traffic building up. Bicycles weave among the black cabs.

'No, because his friend responds…'

'What friend?'

'There is a friend with him, his drinking companion.' Hisham says 'drinking companion' very slowly as if it is a foreign word. It is as if he wants to make a point about the distance he keeps from alcohol. He stresses each syllable, drin-king com-pan-i-on. 'He is writing a biography of Pascal,' Hisham adds with pride.

'Is he?'

'Yes and this is what he says to the professor when the professor says the earth will go round and round forever and never ever stop. He says – his voice is also just a bit slurred, but smoother – "My money is on it ending."'

'Then what,' I ask, my fingers reaching for my phone.

'That's it, that's my whole story. Don't you know Pascal's Wager?'

'No, I don't.'

'Pascal said that it is rational to wager that God exists because in doing that, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. If you wager that He doesn't exist and then it turns out that He does, you lose everything. If you wager that He does exist and then it turns out that He doesn't, you won't lose anything.'

Hisham smiles and my brain works to catch up with him. He was like that too when he was young. I could never understand half of what he said or how he could possibly do things like listen to the Grateful Dead. And now he is drawing the Circle Line on a napkin.

I look down at the drawing. The Circle Line is not continuous. It does not go on and on in a loop. It has an end. 'This is the basic, deepest argument,' Hisham says. 'Will the world end or will it go on forever? Does time finish or not? A straight line starts at a certain point and ends at another, unless it goes on to infinity – and infinity must be a different place, not where the line started. But a circle promises continuity, round and round passing the same things. It makes sense to wager that the world – as we know it – will end.'

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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