Home > Africa Reading Challenge, Re-readable, Tayeb Salih > #8. Season of Migration to the North

#8. Season of Migration to the North


A scholar returns to the Sudan after seven years of study in England. He finds his country and his countrymen mostly unchanged. He revels in the familiar and the natural. But there is one stark difference – a man he has never met before named Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa excites in the narrator an insatiable curiosity. Who is this man who does not swoon when he hears tales about the narrator’s experiences in England? Who is this man who, when drunk, spouts poetry in an impeccable English accent? Suddenly, the story becomes Mustafa’s. Mustafa tells the narrator the story of his life in intimate detail.

The voice of the narrator up until this point has been beautiful, engaging. But when the prose shifts into Mustafa’s voice, it becomes positively ecstatic. It is poetry, pure, lyrical, almost mad. It is a voice to wake in the reader a delight that climbs with each startling confession. Mustafa’s story changes the narrator’s life because, not long after sharing the horrifying details of his life story, Mustafa takes his own life or is drowned in the Nile – we are not sure. He leaves the narrator as guardian of his secrets, and of his wife and his two sons.

It is hard to pin down what this book is about exactly – certainly, there are political overtones; there are observations of corruption and rot in post-colonial Africa. But there is also talk of death and sex and a darkness that consumes from within. I can say only one thing with absolute certainty: prose this gorgeous is hard to come by. Re-readable.

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