River Spirit by Leila Abouela: A review

Set in nineteenth-century Sudan, this novel tells the story of the years that led up to the British conquest of that region in 1898. It explores the tensions that existed between not only Britain and Sudan but also between Christianity and Islam. We experience all of that through the eyes of a girl called Akuany.

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? 

Comments

  1. Sudan is such an interesting setting; I've read a few books set there and have really enjoyed getting to know more about the history of that country. And I like Leila Aboulela...at least I really liked the one book by her that I've read. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been impressed with her writing and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of her books to read.

      Delete
  2. How did you come upon this novel? The cover is dazzling. I like that too about historical fiction -- it can light up an area or subject I don't know about. I don't know this author yet -- but it seems I should. Thx for the review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw a review of it in one of the publications I read. I think it was The New York Times. It sounded interesting and the review was not wrong.

      Delete
  3. What an enriching reading experience indeed! I like these types of reads. Like you, I think a take told through multiple view points is an effective way to present multiple sides of a story to readers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Enriching" is a good word to describe my feelings about this book.

      Delete
  4. I am pretty sure I have never read a novel set in Sudan. Yes, I can see that this book would be enriching.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't recall that I had ever read one set there either. Lots in Egypt, of course, sometimes with incidental trips to or through Sudan, but not actually primarily set there.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver

Overboard by Sara Paretsky: A review

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review