River Spirit by Leila Abouela: A review
Akuany and her brother Bol were orphaned by a raid on their village in South Sudan. Subsequently, a young merchant named Yaseen took them in and promised to care for them until they reached adulthood, but this proved difficult as events in the Ottoman Empire became more and more unsettled. Akuany at first lived with Yaseen's sister but was later enslaved.
A revolutionary leader who proclaimed himself the Mahdi (the prophesied redeemer of Islam) came to power in the region and the people had to choose sides between this "Mahdi" and those who opposed him. Yaseen's choice was to oppose him, even as this choice seemed to tear his family apart.
Akuany, now an adult, is sold and traded from house to house across the countryside, while always maintaining a link to Yaseen. Their relationship evolves over the years and even though the revolution separates them on occasions, they are drawn to each other and manage to remain a part of each other's lives.
The tale is told from various points of view - I must admit that I can't tell you exactly how many - but I found it to be an effective way to present the multiple sides of the story and the impact that it had on different segments of Sudanese society. It truly enriched my reading experience and, I think, gave me a fuller understanding of that period of history and of the sacrifices required of the people, especially the women, caught in that situation. All in all, I felt at least somewhat enlightened about a people and a period of history of which I had been fairly ignorant. What more could one ask of historical fiction?