Season of Migration to the North
184pp. NYRB Classics.
After years of study in Europe, the still-young and nameless narrator of this 1966 novel returns to his native Sudan, eager to make his mark in the postcolonial culture of his homeland. In his home village he meets the enigmatic Mustafa Sa'eed, who slowly reveals the story of his own years in London, his career as a child prodigy and brilliant economist, and his series of increasingly perilous relationships with white women obsessed with his dark skin and invented exotic past.
Though we finished this novel months ago, its unsettling and complex beauty still haunts us. Salih writes with an unerring eye for the terrible consequences of colonialism and its lasting impact on Africa, as well as an eloquence and restraint that is as remarkable as it is effective. Never less than gorgeous, his cool and hypnotic prose sits in the mouth like poetry. Salih, who died in February of 2009, deserves to be every bit as famous in America as he is in the Arab world (a panel of Arab writers and critics selected Season of Migration to the North as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century). As relevant now as it was when it was written, it's also a surprising window into a Muslim world most Americans never see. As close to perfect as anything we've read in a long, long time.