Season of Migration to the North

Tayeb Salih

translated from the Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies
Heinemann 1969
A book review by Danny Yee © 2006 http://dannyreviews.com/
Season of Migration to the North tells the story of Mustafa Sa'eed, a prodigy from Sudan who goes to study first in Cairo and then in London, where he hunts women but eventually falls for one himself. After a marriage consummated by violence and a prison sentence, he returns to Sudan, moving to a small village on the Nile, where he marries again and has children. He disappears mysteriously in a flood.

This story is not told directly, however. It is revealed through an unnamed narrator who, having studied poetry in England, has returned to work in Khartoum as a civil servant. He reveals Mustafa's story to us in pieces and out of order, some of it learned from Mustafa himself, some of it from what he leaves behind him, and some of it through other people. The narrator is passive and his own life is relatively subdued, with low key relationships with his parents and grandfather and with the other members of the village. The climax here comes when Mustafa's widow is forced into an unwanted marriage and violence ensues, in a parallel to Mustafa's own fate.

Season of Migration to the North is complex, in its framing, in its episodic style, in its use of metaphor, and in the variety of material it canvasses. It touches on colonial arrogance, sexual mores and the status of women, the politics of independent Sudan, and more. There are lyrical fragments with no direct connection to the story, describing the rhythms of agriculture, travel along the Nile, a spontaneous night celebration by travellers in the desert, and so forth. And there are references to European novels about encounters with the exotic in Africa and the Middle East. Most of this is only hinted at, and never elaborated on, but there is enough here to keep students of post-colonial literature busy for a long time. Season of Migration to the North is short and immediate, however, and can be appreciated without any literary theory.

September 2006

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Related reviews:
- more Arabic literature
- books about Egypt + North Africa
%T Season of Migration to the North
%A Salih, Tayeb
%M Arabic
%F Johnson-Davies, Denys
%I Heinemann
%D 1969
%G ISBN 0435906305
%P 169pp