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Novel set in late 19th Century Sudan

23rd January 2023

River Spirit by Leila Aboulela, novel set in late 19th Century Sudan.

Novel set in late 19th Century Sudan

I came to this novel with virtually no knowledge of Sudan and certainly knowing very little about the country’s history. There is a very helpful map at the beginning of the book.

Akuany and her brother Bol have been orphaned and are taken in by a young merchant, Yaseen. Colonial powers held sway and Khartoum was a huge trading centre, given its ideal location at the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile, that attracted all kinds of people to settle and seize power. Tribal areas vied for control and trade, and the growing resulted in a Mahdi uprising, violent individuals seizing power, dividing the populace, . Yaseen is moved to counter his power grab which sets off a whole train of events.

Akuary moves through the country and tries to negotiate the growing turbulence, she is sold multiple times, somehow coming back to Yaseen as her rock. they are then torn apart once again as things escalate. There are, of course, huge themes incorporated into the storyline, inevitable when there is an attempt at regime and cultural change.

It very much feels like a 360° telling of the situation, seen from a variety of characters’ perspectives, and it is an incredibly atmospheric read that really evokes the 19th Century setting and ways of the people. I did, however, struggle to really engage early on and I think it took a while for the author to really get in her stride. It is rigorous in its objectivity and thus I think it is hard to really get involved with the characters.

An unusual and informative novel.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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