Friday, June 12, 2015

Minaret by Leila Aboulela

A divided story 

It is divided between continents, between times, and between Najwa's life before and after she reverted to Islam. The book opens with Najwa's current life, based in London she tells the reader that she has "come down in the world", and that this is her chance to start over. This is because her previous life in Sudan came to an abrupt end. She grew up wealthy and privileged as the daughter of a political adviser; she was oblivious to the political and economic state of her country. Her connection to Europe was one of privilege; privilege that ended abruptly when the government was overthrown, her father arrested during the night, and her family forced to flee to London. The city was no longer welcoming to Najwa and her family. All of their assets had been frozen during her father's trial; they had nothing.

Najwa has no choice: she must get a job, but her choice of employment is limited as she was forced to leave her education behind her in Sudan. Finding solace in her increasing visits to her local mosque, Najwa's faith deepens and grows. Islam reminds her of a home she was wrenched from. It becomes her new home, offering friendship and employment through the likeminded people she meets there. She works as a nanny, moving from family to family having given up on having children of her own. Her faith draws her to the younger brother of her employer as they bond over their shared beliefs and values. However, as their relationship deepens, Najwa is forced to confront the life she thought she had left behind.

Aboulela’s influences 

It is a novel about growing up. It is about being forced to leave your country and start your life over again and all of the worries and strains that situation brings. It is also a novel about love and family. As Najwa and Tamar's relationship grows, so does her ability to confront her past. Leila Aboulela has described the influence of novels like Jane Eyre and Rebecca on her writing. (Although, both novels having fairly similar plots in my opinion!) Her thoughts on Jane Eyre interested me though because she talks about the inherent Christianity in the novel; how Jane's faith acts upon her character and her actions. I think recent adaptations of Jane Eyre have shied away from this element of the novel and have opted for a racier take on forbidden love as we take it for granted that it would be illegal for Rochester to have two wives, the same can't be said for a Muslim reader. I say this both to highlight the prominence of Christianity in our most popular books and to encourage those readers who may be put off by the prevalence of Islam in the novel.

An interesting insight 

Despite the prominence of images of veiled women accompanying news pieces in the media there are relatively few accounts or stories of their experiences. And I think that this novel may be a good place to start. It offers an insight into the life of a Muslim woman in Britain. The community spirit she experiences at her mosque, the friendships she gains, and the prejudice she has to overcome when she wears the hijab. Whilst this is a vital (and interesting) element of the novel, I do think that reducing it to a novel purely about Islam does it a disservice. Aboulela doesn't lecture the reader about the virtues of Islam; she presents the story of a Muslim woman navigating London and love. It is an easy to read, enjoyable and educating story which I recommend you try.



BooksandBoardies said...

This sounds like an interesting story, I'm always interested to learn more about all religions as I truly think you can learn something new from each faith. I will definitely be adding this to my list of reads. x

Louise @ said...

I couldn't agree with you more, I find religious characters really interesting. It's just a shame that there's a tendency in soaps etc to portray them as crazy because the scope for development is huge when you have a devout character!

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