Summary and book reviews of Minaret by Leila Aboulela

Minaret

A Novel

by Leila Aboulela

Minaret
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  • Paperback:
    Sep 2005, 288 pages

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Book Summary

A lyric and insightful novel about Islam and an alluring glimpse into a culture Westerners are only just beginning to understand.

With her Muslim hijab and down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich families whose houses she cleans in London. Twenty years ago, Najwa, then at university in Khartoum, would never have imagined that one day she would be a maid. An upper-class Westernized Sudanese, her dreams were to marry well and raise a family. But a coup forces the young woman and her family into political exile in London. Soon orphaned, and with her twin brother sent to jail on a drug charge, she finds solace and companionship within the Muslim community. Then Najwa meets Tamer, the intense, lonely younger brother of her employer. They find a common bond in faith and slowly, silently, begin to fall in love. Written with directness and force, Minaret is a lyric and insightful novel about Islam and an alluring glimpse into a culture Westerners are only just beginning to understand.


Leila Aboulela on autobiographical elements in Minaret:


In both my parents' lives, modernity and tradition existed side by side—in my father's case his liberal education and his loyalty to his family, in my mother's case her devotion to Islam and her career in the UN. This interplay between modernity and tradition would also become my own challenge and a feature of my life and writing. In my case it is my desire to live in Britain and become part of the UK literary scene while at the same time practicing my faith and reflecting it in my writing. My parents' successful lives have given me a confidence and an optimism that, although it is neither easy nor comfortable, modernity and tradition can coexist.

Part One
Khartoum, 1984-5

One


Omar, are you awake?' I shook his arm that lay across his face, covering his eyes.

'Hmm.'

'Get up.' His room was wonderfully cool because he had the best air conditioner in the house.

'I can't move.' He put his arm down and blinked at me. I moved my head back, wrinkling my nose at his bad breath.

'If you don't get up, I'm going to take the car.'

'Seriously, I can't . . . can't move.'

'Well, I'm going without you.' I walked to the far end of his room, past his cupboard and the poster of Michael Jackson. I switched the air conditioner off. It died down with an echo and heat surrounded the room, waiting to pounce into it.

'Why are doing this to me?'

I laughed and said with glee, 'Now you'll be forced to get up.'

Downstairs I drank tea with Baba. He always looked so nice in the morning, fresh from his shower and ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

She draws Najwa's odyssey of exile, loss and found faith beautifully.

Kirkus Reviews

This simple near-parable of a story successfully combines a tale of inexperience and cultural confusion with an insider's view of the conflicts and complexities within the immigrant and Muslim communities. A low-key, affecting account of one bruised young woman's search for wisdom and solace.

Library Journal - Starr E. Smith

Clear and precise writing, sympathetic characters, and positive portrayals of Muslim religious practices lend this elegantly crafted novel broad appeal.

Telegraph (UK), Tania Kumari

The novel deftly oscillates between past and present as Najwa struggles to gain a grip on her 'real self'. Aboulela is finely attuned to the nuances of cultural difference and her prose glistens with details of those things that define or unmake identity. . . . Aboulela's fidelity to her narrator's voice, as she struggles to find a foothold in an unstable world, makes for a disconcerting portrayal of how rapidly the ground beneath one's feet can slip away.

The Guardian (UK), Mike Phillips

The narrative is tranquil and lyrical. . . . Aboulela describes the uncertainty and terror of the country's westernized elite in the 80s, and assembles a persuasive description of why a fundamentalist politics emerged. . . . In a narrative of complex reversals, Aboulela takes a huge risk in describing her heroine's religious conversion and spiritual dedication. She succeeds brilliantly. This is a beautiful, daring, challenging novel.

The Scotsman, Jonathan Falla

Her prose moves with the steady pace of someone who knows her faith, and knows she must not falter. . . . Often delicate and evocative.

The Bookseller (UK)

Editor's Choice. A delicate, quietly told story from an interesting perspective, and it has real page-turner appeal.

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