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Leila Aboulela. Image from The National.

Leila Aboulela has recommended five books for readers seeking familiarity with Sudanese fiction. Aboulela’s own work is often used as an introduction to the literature of her country. She won the inaugural Caine Prize in 2000 and is the author of three novels which have all been nominated for the Women’s Prize: The Translator (1999), Minaret (2005), and Lyrics Alley (2010).

In a piece for Literary Hub, she lists these five books.

Season of Migration to the North. Image from Books Come First.

Tayeb Saleh, Season of Migration to the North, tr. Denys Johnson-Davies

This stunning novel, with its dark themes of racial, sexual and political antagonism, caused controversy and sensation when it first appeared in 1966. It was first serialized in the magazine Hiwar. Copies of the magazine were scarce, and it is said that students in the university hostels jostled and squabbled to take turns to read the installments. In the end, a 24-hour schedule had to be enforced. When the book was published in its entirety, critics hailed it as a Heart of Darkness in reverse, while ordinary readers reveled in the thrills and intrigue of the narrative. Edward Said described it as “among the six finest novels to be written in modern Arabic literature.”

Tayeb Saleh, The Wedding of Zein, tr. Denys Johnson-Davies

Rooted in village traditions and Islamic mysticism, this serves as a quintessentially Sudanese story, revealing the nation with its limitations, quirky possibilities, lush spirituality and the miraculous triumph of a reckless, marginalized character. The expression “Zein’s wedding” entered the Sudanese language, evocative of community celebration and undreamed-of-success.

Amir Taj El Sir, The Grub Hunter, tr. William Hutchins

Life in a police state is comically and sharply depicted in this story of an injured secret agent trying to reform himself by writing a novel. Farfar, now forcibly retired, starts to frequent a café that he knows from his surveillance work is a hotbed of dissidents and intellectuals. In time, he loses his position in society and his own former colleagues start stalking him. With bizarre characters and clever stabs at the pretensions of the literati, no one and nothing can be taken for granted in this delightful novel.

The Book of Khartoum—A City in Short Fiction (ed. Raphael Cormack and Max Shmookler)

This is a recent collection showcasing Sudan’s top writers—Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin and Hamour Ziada, among others. The unifying theme is the capital city, its Arab-African fusion and the upheavals wrought by urbanization and civil war. The Sudanese literary scene is heavily male dominated and so it is a delight to find Rania Mamoun’s haunting story of grief and recovery. And if all this is not enough, the icing on the cake is poet Bushra al Fadil’s story, The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away, which went on to win the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing.

Stella Gaitano, Wilted Flowers

Urgently in need of reaching an international audience through translation, Stella Gaitano’s first collection of short stories was the publishing excitement of the past decade. As a young Southern Sudanese, a non-Arab who writes in Arabic, Gaitano is in a unique and complex position bringing a crucial, startling perspective.

Read the full piece HERE.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he is a judge for The Gerald Kraak Prize and was a judge for The Morland Writing Scholarship in 2019. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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