Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Minaret by Leila Aboulela

Minaret by Leila Aboulela
Published in the UK by Bloomsbury in 2005.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Eyes and one of my 2019 Mount TBR Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Bought at a book fair

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In her Muslim hijab, with her down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich London families whose houses she cleans. But twenty years earlier, it was a different story. Najwa was at university in Khartoum and, as an upper-class westernized Sudanese, and her dreams were to marry well and raise a family. However, those days of innocence came to an abrupt end and tough years followed. Now Najwa finds solace in her visits to the Mosque, the companionship of the Muslims she meets there, and in the hijab she adopts. Her dreams may have shattered, but her awakening to Islam has given her a different peace. Then Najwa meets a younger man and slowly they begin to fall in love.

I bought six books at the excellent Hope Association book fair back in May last year and Minaret is one of two that I hadn't got around to reading until now. I was attracted to the story by the Ali Smith quote on the front cover: "Minaret is a wonderful book ... readable, subtle and ambiguous, with a shocking clarity of voice" and by Aboulela being an #OwnVoices Muslim Sudanese author in London. It's depressingly uncommon to actually hear about women's experience of Islam directly from the women themselves so I was keen to read this positive portrayal.

The novel is indeed very readable and the font size in my paperback edition meant I zoomed through the pages faster than I had expected to do. Minaret isn't a light read though. It could simply be a story of lost privilege and thwarted love - a poor rich girl finding a new place for herself in a completely changed world - but also works on a deeper level to explore our need for spiritual identity and a sense of belonging. Despite not having any religious inclinations, I could feel myself drawn to the solidarity of the women's group at Najwa's mosque and could easily empathise with her rediscovery of childhood ritual and faith. Aboulela presents women well although I couldn't understand what Najwa saw in either of the men to whom she is attracted!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Leila Aboulela / Contemporary fiction / Books from Sudan