Season of Migration to the North caused some turmoil in Sudan when published in 1969 as it touched important taboos like colonialism, sex, subversion of tradition… Tayeb Salih describes the quiet life of a small village by the upper Nile in the backdrop of the past experiences of two countrymen in London.
The story has some winks for the instability that succeeded independence:
Has not the country become independent? Have we not become free men in our own country? Be sure, though, that they will direct our affairs from afar. This is because they have left people who thinks as they do.
Colonialism, of course, was to blame initially:
The ships at first sailed down the Nile carrying guns not bread, and the railways were originally set up to transport troops; the schools were started so as to teach us how to say “Yes” in their language.
But eventually not everything was ruined:
By the standards of the European industrial world we are poor peasants, but when I embrace my grandfather I experience a sense of richness as though I am a note in the heartbeats of the universe.
The threat tying this book together is a sort of useful orientalism by which the benevolent racism of the North is instrumental for Mustafa Sae’ed and his own personal conquest:
Half-credulous, half-disbelieving, she listen to me, laughing and closing her eyes, her cheeks reddening. Sometimes she would hear me out in silence, a Christian sympathy in her eyes. There came a moment when I felt I had been transformed in her eyes into a naked, primitive creature, a spear in one hand and arrows in the other, hunting elephants and lions in the jungles. This was fine. Curiosity had changed to gaity, and gaity to sympathy, and when I stir the still pool in its depths the sympathy will be transformed into a desire upon whose taut strings I shall play as I wish.
This controversial novel justly passed to the annals of literature by suggesting more than it resolves. Season of Migration to the North condenses in its pages an emotional narrative and very poignant questions that are still relevant.
The edition I read was published in 2003 by Punguin Classics and delightfully translated into English by Denys Johnson-Davies