Home > Uncategorized > On first reading The Season of Migration to the North

On first reading The Season of Migration to the North

This novel has an interesting, nonlinear structure.  At times it’s not entirely clear who is speaking or what the situation is at the beginning of a new section.  I didn’t find this effect frustrating, though; it contributed to a certain mystique.  I became more aware of the imagery as the novel went on.  Here’s one of many passages that I found arresting: “The tops of the palm trees shudder in the gentle breeze and grow still.  Under the sun’s violence at midday hot steam rises from the fields of watered clover.  Every breath of wind diffuses the scent of lemon, orange, and tangerine.  The lowing of an ox, the braying of a donkey, or the sound of an axe on wood” (107). 

I was a bit challenged by the geographical, historical, and cultural context of the novel.  Kirchener, for example, is an important name, and I had to do a quick check of the history of British and Egyptian occupation in the Sudan.  I think I’m going to keep discovering how much I don’t know, and in some perverse way, I love that experience!

The main character is charismatic, brilliant, and emotionally hollow–a psychopath.  Do I find him believable?  Yes, I think I do.  The psychological dimension of the novel is as interesting as any other; it presents madness in both the psychopath and his romantic conquests.   Women face tragically resticted choices, in contrast to The Naqib’s Daughter

The bawdy, uninhibited talk among men in this novel would pose some challenges to teaching it, but it would also create an opportunity.  After all, how much and when one talks about sex is a key element of culture.  High school seniors could handle this and learn from it. 

The College Board has never included a novel by Salih or Mahfouz on the AP exam.  Perhaps they don’t do novels in translation.  I can still teach it in an AP course, though, and I’m inclined to include it in my syllabus for Madness in Literature, Art and Film.  I liked this book a lot!

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