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American readers were introduced to the award-winning Sudanese author Leila Aboulela with Minaret, a delicate tale of a privileged young African Muslim woman adjusting to her new life as a maid in London. Now, for the first time in North America, we step back to her extraordinarily assured debut about a widowed Muslim mother living in Aberdeen who falls in love with a Scot American readers were introduced to the award-winning Sudanese author Leila Aboulela with Minaret, a delicate tale of a privileged young African Muslim woman adjusting to her new life as a maid in London. Now, for the first time in North America, we step back to her extraordinarily assured debut about a widowed Muslim mother living in Aberdeen who falls in love with a Scottish secular academic. Sammar is a Sudanese widow working as an Arabic translator at a Scottish university. Since the sudden death of her husband, her young son has gone to live with family in Khartoum, leaving Sammar alone in cold, gray Aberdeen, grieving and isolated. But when she begins to translate for Rae, a Scottish Islamic scholar, the two develop a deep friendship that awakens in Sammar all the longing for life she has repressed. As Rae and Sammar fall in love, she knows they will have to address his lack of faith in all that Sammar holds sacred. An exquisitely crafted meditation on love, both human and divine, The Translator is ultimately the story of one woman’s courage to stay true to her beliefs, herself, and her newfound love.


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American readers were introduced to the award-winning Sudanese author Leila Aboulela with Minaret, a delicate tale of a privileged young African Muslim woman adjusting to her new life as a maid in London. Now, for the first time in North America, we step back to her extraordinarily assured debut about a widowed Muslim mother living in Aberdeen who falls in love with a Scot American readers were introduced to the award-winning Sudanese author Leila Aboulela with Minaret, a delicate tale of a privileged young African Muslim woman adjusting to her new life as a maid in London. Now, for the first time in North America, we step back to her extraordinarily assured debut about a widowed Muslim mother living in Aberdeen who falls in love with a Scottish secular academic. Sammar is a Sudanese widow working as an Arabic translator at a Scottish university. Since the sudden death of her husband, her young son has gone to live with family in Khartoum, leaving Sammar alone in cold, gray Aberdeen, grieving and isolated. But when she begins to translate for Rae, a Scottish Islamic scholar, the two develop a deep friendship that awakens in Sammar all the longing for life she has repressed. As Rae and Sammar fall in love, she knows they will have to address his lack of faith in all that Sammar holds sacred. An exquisitely crafted meditation on love, both human and divine, The Translator is ultimately the story of one woman’s courage to stay true to her beliefs, herself, and her newfound love.

30 review for The Translator

  1. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    Warning to readers! This edition includes an incredibly annoying introduction by Anne Donovan which praises Aboulela's text in rather general terms and summarises the plot, as if you want the whole thing spoiled for you before beginning! It isn't a gripping thriller full of twists, granted, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be surprised by what the author hasn't chosen to reveal in advance. This would have made a perfectly inoffensive and even pleasant afterword, if one were needed, but I wa Warning to readers! This edition includes an incredibly annoying introduction by Anne Donovan which praises Aboulela's text in rather general terms and summarises the plot, as if you want the whole thing spoiled for you before beginning! It isn't a gripping thriller full of twists, granted, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be surprised by what the author hasn't chosen to reveal in advance. This would have made a perfectly inoffensive and even pleasant afterword, if one were needed, but I was very cross I had read it before the book... Which itself was a delight! Thoughts, facts, explanations, shaped into such light, pure poetry. I could open it at any page and find rhythms and sparkle, water meeting the sun. Mundane detail, dialogue convincingly banal, arranged with an artful simplicity that turns me back into life newly sensitised to its holiness, although I am an unbeliever or at best/worst a kind of pagan constantly finding pieces of paradise in life. From the perspective of Sammar, working as a translator of Arabic for a university professor, emotional landscapes of grief, loneliness, faith, love and belonging are mapped out between the people and places that shape them: Aberdeen where she works with Rae and Yasmin, Khartoum and her family there, as well as her absent husband. Sammar's occasional ability to slip into a vision of Khartoum in a state of daydream drew me in deeper, intrusions of colour and warmth that evoke both the exotic other place (for me) and Sammar's longing for the place she feels most at home. This book felt to me like a relation of The Incomers, in the clarity and warmth of its mood as well as its theme. I loved the focus on the emotional, the personal in the deepest sense, where feeling is not some kind of distorting medium that unfortunately refracts the truth, but the source of truth, the first way of knowing, the means of crossing the leaky borders of the individual person with the rest of the world. When Yasmin explains why Rae could not become a Muslim, not only does the reason seem absurd to Sammar, but the whole rationalist epistemology on which Scottish (and by extension all other 'Western') universities and the disciplines (a revealing word, that) they deal in is suddenly exposed as suspect, even bizarre. Yet, the novel rarely describes emotions directly, rather demonstrates them through actions, paints them with physical descriptions, making use of the weather and minutiae of everyday life; food and clothes take on the resonant importance they often have in reality (certainly to me!) An exception to this is perhaps Sammar's faith, which she thinks about and sometimes explains feelingly, making this book a very sweet, accessible source of knowledge about Islam, always valuable when living in a grotesquely Islamophobic environment like the UK. I find the society described in Khartoum, interconnected, marked by openness to tender friendship and mutual supportiveness, much more attractive than the atomised existence of Aberdeen Sammar describes, or that I myself inhabit most of the time. 'Loneliness is Europe's malaria,' Rae said; 'no one can really be immune.' The shining thread of faith that draws Sammar, (who sometimes behaves badly I thought, in a way that reflects a history of trauma) and guides her through her experiences to the wisdom and self-knowledge she gains, may well be the same light I feel in Aboulela's graceful language.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Connie G

    Sammar, a young Muslim woman from Khartoum, has been overwhelmed with grief since her husband's death. She works as an Arabic translator at a university in Aberdeen, Scotland while her son stays with her aunt in Khartoum. Sammar and Rae, a kind secular Middle Eastern Studies professor, form a close friendship which deepens into love. Sammar has a very strong faith that defines her as a person. But Rae comes from a different religious and cultural background. Author Leila Aboulela writes using spa Sammar, a young Muslim woman from Khartoum, has been overwhelmed with grief since her husband's death. She works as an Arabic translator at a university in Aberdeen, Scotland while her son stays with her aunt in Khartoum. Sammar and Rae, a kind secular Middle Eastern Studies professor, form a close friendship which deepens into love. Sammar has a very strong faith that defines her as a person. But Rae comes from a different religious and cultural background. Author Leila Aboulela writes using spare but beautiful language. Aboulela has lived in both Khartoum and Aberdeen, and gives wonderful descriptions of the contrasting locations. The book starts in cold, gray Scotland in winter, reflecting the depression that Sammar is feeling. She visits her family in Sudan later in the story. She feels the comfort and warmth of being with her family as she's also enjoying the heat and earthy colors of Khartoum. She does have to cope with the water shortages and power blackouts in Khartoum, but feels that she acts more like her true self there. She misses Rae, but doesn't know if they can resolve their differences. The Translator is a lovely little gem about faith, traditions, love, and two very different cultures.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Every year I notice some theme sneak into my reading. This year, it's love. I'd rather focus on love to help me forget the hate in the world. I read somewhere that Melinda Gates chooses a word each year for her resolution of sorts, so there it is, my reading resolution. The love story drew me to this novel but the 'mood' kept me enthralled. This is Leila Aboulela's first novel and atmospherically, it is distinct. She thought that it was not true what people said, that time passed quickly when Every year I notice some theme sneak into my reading. This year, it's love. I'd rather focus on love to help me forget the hate in the world. I read somewhere that Melinda Gates chooses a word each year for her resolution of sorts, so there it is, my reading resolution. The love story drew me to this novel but the 'mood' kept me enthralled. This is Leila Aboulela's first novel and atmospherically, it is distinct. She thought that it was not true what people said, that time passed quickly when you were happy and passed slowly when you were sad. For on her darkest days after Tarig died, grief had burned away time, devoured the hours effortlessly, the days in chunk after chunk. Now every day stretched long and when Rae spoke to her a few words, when they only saw each other for a few minutes, these minutes expanded and these words multiplied and filled up time with what she wanted to take with her, what she did not want to leave behind. With this New York Times Notable Book, I traversed Aberdeen, Scotland and Khartoum, Sudan with a woman grieving the loss of her husband. With admirable restraint and lucidity, the third-person narrative becomes so close that her vulnerability is laid bare. A Sudanese mother who cannot hold her child, cannot wake up or walk up the stairs without effort, cannot return to her homeland. She is depressed, angry, helpless, broken. What sustains her is her work as an Arabic translator at a university. She works for an Islamic scholar who listens to her, asks for her opinions, makes her feel visible again in a world where she feels isolated, a woman of a different culture and religion. She starts to look forward to her days at the university, looks forward to the end of the day when the professor emerges from the lecture hall and they can talk about works needing translation, talk about religion like scholars. A mesh of faith and love, this novel is an experimentation of love at the intersection of culture and religion, a notable journey across continents.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sadia

    This is undoubtedly one of the best books I've had the opportunity to read. The characters make your heart soar, the dialogues, images, themes are all profoundly moving. I have not had such an emotional response to a piece of fiction in a long time. I learned many things from this book: I remembered prayer, I thought of loss, and love and the pervasive nature of love that allows you to conquer fear and stigma. I learned about the beauty of the human spirit to persevere, to hold onto love despite This is undoubtedly one of the best books I've had the opportunity to read. The characters make your heart soar, the dialogues, images, themes are all profoundly moving. I have not had such an emotional response to a piece of fiction in a long time. I learned many things from this book: I remembered prayer, I thought of loss, and love and the pervasive nature of love that allows you to conquer fear and stigma. I learned about the beauty of the human spirit to persevere, to hold onto love despite shifts in space, and time. I felt this was an intensely spiritual book as well, because the the main character Sammar possessed a quiet piety, respect, and compassion. It was deeply moving for me when she realized her mistake of placing herself first in this matter of love, as if she could decide the contents of another's heart, as if she could demand their love. This book made me think about how friendship and love are so difficult to distinguish, how easily they come in phone calls, conversations, and exchanges. When I finished this book on my NJ Transit ride to work, I wanted to immediately buy millions of copies of this book to distribute to my fellow passengers. I wanted so much to share this story with everyone I knew. If you are a believer on any level--of hope, change, love, Islam--I think this is a significant piece for you to read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amal Bedhyefi

    I'M RE-WRITING MY REVIEW . If you read the first review , then excuse my naivety. This book has been assigned for me at Uni , Although I did not have big expectations, it sure caught me off guard. The whole time I was reading this , I was having a continual feeling of déjà vu as if I've read or seen this before , not the same story obviously but the same atmosphere / style . The story of a northern african making her way through Schotland , a western society , reminded me of Chimamanda Adiche's Amer I'M RE-WRITING MY REVIEW . If you read the first review , then excuse my naivety. This book has been assigned for me at Uni , Although I did not have big expectations, it sure caught me off guard. The whole time I was reading this , I was having a continual feeling of déjà vu as if I've read or seen this before , not the same story obviously but the same atmosphere / style . The story of a northern african making her way through Schotland , a western society , reminded me of Chimamanda Adiche's Americanah , Sammar's personnality remided me of Janie from Zora Hurtson'ts Her eyes were watching God and finally , the eastern/western approach and the style of writing brought Elif Shafak's novels to my mind. Aside from all of that, after spending a whole day analysing the book in my head , I came to the realisation that leila portrayed faith and religion in a cheesy & corny way . ABSOLUTELY HATED the fact that religion was always connectedwith marriage and even though the topics discussed are somehow important , they always end up revolving around the idea of marriage . WHICH PISSED ME OFF. The ending was so frustrating & so predictible. The simplicity of the language and Leila's almost poetic way of telling this story are what made it special . Highly recommend it , even though Sammar got on my nerves most of the time with her selfishness & dullness.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    The Translator by Leila Aboulela is the love story of Sammar, a young Sudanese widow, and a Scottish professor. The novel opens a few years after the death of Sammar’s husband, a student at an Aberdeen university. After taking his body back to Khartoum for burial and leaving their young son with her mother-in-law, Sammar has returned to Aberdeen. She supports herself by working as an Arabic translator at the University. She grieves for her husband, is isolated and lonely. She gradually emerges f The Translator by Leila Aboulela is the love story of Sammar, a young Sudanese widow, and a Scottish professor. The novel opens a few years after the death of Sammar’s husband, a student at an Aberdeen university. After taking his body back to Khartoum for burial and leaving their young son with her mother-in-law, Sammar has returned to Aberdeen. She supports herself by working as an Arabic translator at the University. She grieves for her husband, is isolated and lonely. She gradually emerges from her shell and finds herself attracted to Rae, a Scottish professor specializing in Islam. The two work closely together, their friendship developing into love. The situation is complicated since Sammar is a devout Muslim and will not marry outside her faith. Torn between the dictates of her faith and her love for Rae, Sammar decides to sacrifice her chance for love. She returns to Khartoum, reconciled to her fate as a lonely widow. It is only after she gives up hope of ever finding love that her prayers are answered, her patience rewarded. Sammar is a complex character, not without her faults. She exhibits little remorse for leaving her son with his grandmother. She seldom thinks of him, treating him as a nuisance she has happily discarded. She lashes out at Rae when he rejects her conditional proposal of marriage. Her self-awareness comes to fruition when she later recognizes the selfishness of her motives and prays for forgiveness. Some of the most moving passages are those that describe the peace and solace she derives when reciting the Qur’an, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and bowing down in prayer. Ultimately, she shows a great deal of courage in relinquishing her job and returning to an uncertain future in Khartoum all because she does not want to deviate from her faith. It is refreshing to see a female character who remains true to herself and her beliefs, one who refuses to sacrifice her identity for love and marriage. Sammar’s fluctuating feelings are conveyed with delicacy, alternating seamlessly between her memories of the past and her current situation. She illustrates the immigrant experience of being caught between two worlds, epitomized in the contrast between the grey, cold, and lonely landscape of Aberdeen with the color, warmth, vitality, and community of the Khartoum she remembers. Aboulela’s style is elegant and understated. Her language is rhythmic and poetic; her words subtle and restrained. This is a quiet, tender love story minus the hoopla and fuss. It is the story of two people from two very different cultures and lifestyles who gradually draw closer together to become one. A beautiful story told in language that flows with grace, lucidity, and elegance. Highly recommended. My book reviews are also available at www.tamaraaghajaffar.com

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anetq

    When the viewpoint seems so rare, it makes you realize just how rare it is to have a muslim woman tell her own story and express her feelings in fiction. But it's not to be read just for it's particular point of view - it is also a beautiful story of being and loving and being alien in your own culture as well as the one you're living in. The contrasts and the sameness, the love and loss that goes with human migration. You should definitely read Aboulela, and not just for the diversity! When the viewpoint seems so rare, it makes you realize just how rare it is to have a muslim woman tell her own story and express her feelings in fiction. But it's not to be read just for it's particular point of view - it is also a beautiful story of being and loving and being alien in your own culture as well as the one you're living in. The contrasts and the sameness, the love and loss that goes with human migration. You should definitely read Aboulela, and not just for the diversity!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    The story of (oddly enough) a translator:) This is about a Sudanese widow who has embraced her Islamic religion. She is living in Scotland when she start working as an Arabic translator for an Islamic scholar who is not a believer. After they fall in love she must decide what is stronger, her love or her faith. What this novel explores with great finesse is the true nature of faith. What it means to be faithful and what it means to give your life over to that. The language in this novel is a joy The story of (oddly enough) a translator:) This is about a Sudanese widow who has embraced her Islamic religion. She is living in Scotland when she start working as an Arabic translator for an Islamic scholar who is not a believer. After they fall in love she must decide what is stronger, her love or her faith. What this novel explores with great finesse is the true nature of faith. What it means to be faithful and what it means to give your life over to that. The language in this novel is a joy to read and the story is lovely. Highly enjoyable and different look at the Islamic faith.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    It’s probably near impossible in this day and age to write a disparaging review of a book featuring a Muslim character and not come across as Islamophobic. (It’s ever so much easier to just reductively scream phobia this or racist that instead of actually comprehending the context, following the empirical evidence trail, thinking for yourself, etc.) But hey, I’m gonna give it a whirl. So first…some background. Actual facts from reputable sources. Sudan has recently made the news for ever so prog It’s probably near impossible in this day and age to write a disparaging review of a book featuring a Muslim character and not come across as Islamophobic. (It’s ever so much easier to just reductively scream phobia this or racist that instead of actually comprehending the context, following the empirical evidence trail, thinking for yourself, etc.) But hey, I’m gonna give it a whirl. So first…some background. Actual facts from reputable sources. Sudan has recently made the news for ever so progressively (and yes, that is sarcasm) finally abolishing the apostasy law (we’ll get back to this, this is important), public flogging and alcohol ban for non Muslims, Oh, also female genital mutilation is now punishable by law, but ever so gently so. Only up to three years. Not like, you know, homosexuality, which used to be a death sentence, but now only (only) a life sentence. These hugely progressive (there it is again, sarcasm) steps were taken to reflect the more progressive new government, since Sudan has just (2019) emerged from a 30 year authoritarian military dictatorship. During this time Sudan has steadily been one of the most epic humanrights violators in the world. Statistically. Extremely limited to nonexistent freedom of press, FGM (it’s so frightening, it should be repeated) and all of those freshly abolished punishments too. Why such tough laws, you might ask? Well, that’s because the country is a Muslim country and is governed by the strict Muslim Sharia law. Which is to say (and the book does, quotably so) that’s what they consider justice. To each their own and all that, sure, but it’s important to understand the politics and religion of Sudan in order to understand this book. Mind you, both the author of this book and the protagonist are from the higher echelons of society, meaning European education and most likely spared things like FGM (which at some time was estimated to be performed on 88% of all females…think about it, but still…certain things must be fairly universal. And yet, although the book is set during the 30 year dictatorship time, life in Khartoum seem perfectly ok as described in the book, with power cuts being the major complaint. The horrific lack of literacy is barely grazed upon. So anyway, the protagonist, Sammar, is a young or youngish woman who was born in England, but spent most of her life in Sudan. Following the death of her husband she comes to works in Aberdeen as a translator for a secular gruff Scottish Middle Eastern and Islam scholar and sets out to covert him to her faith in order to marry him. The actual romance itself is so subtle as to be barely perceptible, more like a meeting of minds, two lonely people, etc. and chaste as can be, of course. There’s a lot of discussion of how Sammar’s faith is the best in the world and the only true one and why wouldn’t Rae (the scholar) convert to it. At any rate, he doesn’t even have to mean it, there’s a procedure where he just has to say some special words (the lip service conversion) and it’s done. But Rae as an academic and a man of integrity can’t do that. So the two talk around it until Sammar more or less aggressively proposes to him and when he goes (understandably) what? no. get away. she does. All the way back to Khartoum. Where, apparently, she belongs. Although nothing in the book explains why she loves it there so much. She can only get a crap sporadic job teaching English, she has to live with her mother in law who blames her for her son’s death (see, Sammar had the audacity to make her husband get a car and he ended up dying in a car crash, so…) and wants nothing more than for Sammar to get back to Scotland and continue to send money back. She also has a brother who can’t wait to find a work abroad situation. She has no property, no prospects, nothing back in Sudan. In fact, right after she became a widow she actually considered becoming a third wife to an elderly family friend. Fun. No surprise she’s so desperately after Rae. Actually Sammar has a kid in Khartoum, but shows no maternal instincts whatsoever. She had no qualms abandoning a kid for years while she was in Scotland, she never seems to especially miss him. So anyway, the appeal is never properly explained. It’s just one of those things. Must be the weather, Scotland isn’t warm enough of sunny enough for her and she misses all the sun and all the dust of Sudan. Ok. Also, Sammar is a devoted Muslim and that appeal is never really explained either, although she does seem to say and think things along the lines of how nice it is to have such limited circumscribed choices or more like to have so many choices taken out of her control. And so yeah, the thing is…this not especially likeable protagonist is never explained, not in her choices, not in her preferences, and she is the main feature of a slow, torpidly slow narrative of a book where almost nothing takes place. The only thing this book works as is as a sort of conversion manual, because guess what? (Don’t read on if you haven’t read the book and want to, the ending is about to be discussed). Ok? OK. So yeah, after all that Rae actually converts, like all the way for real converts and comes to Sudan to find Sammar. Because apparently he was that desperate to try marriage for the third time. I suppose it’s the classic fairy tale ending. And presumably they went on to live happily in Aberdeen after all, because in the end of the day it is a first world progressive liberal safe place to live. And I’m basing this educated guess on the fact that Sammar’s life echoes the author’s life in many ways and the author does live in Aberdeen. So anyway, let’s sum this up, a lethargic narrative about two not especially likeable or engaging people that’s meant to be romantic but comes across as inexplicable, furnished with an unrealistic glass slipper ending. This is the book that’s somehow got all this attention and award nominations? Why? Is it really just because it’s a sort of hot button subject? Or exotic? Because quality wise it isn’t really there. It’s very strongly agenda driven, but that’s about it. And no one notices the irony (or is it irony) of the fact that while Rae is repeatedly encouraged and subsequently rewarded (with the dubious prize of Sammar) for his conversion, the opposite of that...Sammar converting from Islam for Rae would be considered apostasy (yes, see, we cycled back to that) and apostasy's just until very recently punishable by death in Sudan. Thoughts? For me…I read to learn, to travel, to live in a larger world. I want to understand different places, religions, perspectives, etc. and I don’t think this book did especially well in educating on any of those accounts. The cultural divide remained in place at all times. It was frustrating slog of a read, not especially educational and not even remotely entertaining. Decently written in a sort of dreamy language, heavily internalized, discourse reliant, but really just didn’t work for me. At all. So yeah…our library got a bunch of author’s work in their new mission to become as inclusive as possible, but this was definitely a one and done. Was this review objective and balanced (considering how subjective reviewing is by nature)? You tell me. I did try.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Deepti

    The Translator is about Sammar, a Muslim widow, who moves to Scotland with her husband before he dies in a car accident. Its a moving and accurate tale about a demographic that is inexplicable to most Westerners: the Muslim woman. The tale starts with Sammar translating a document sent by a terrorist group. She notes how rife with spelling mistakes it is, how pathetic and instantly creates a barrier between Muslims like her, and uneducated extremists like them, fighting against a force they don' The Translator is about Sammar, a Muslim widow, who moves to Scotland with her husband before he dies in a car accident. Its a moving and accurate tale about a demographic that is inexplicable to most Westerners: the Muslim woman. The tale starts with Sammar translating a document sent by a terrorist group. She notes how rife with spelling mistakes it is, how pathetic and instantly creates a barrier between Muslims like her, and uneducated extremists like them, fighting against a force they don't even understand, while she stands firm in her beliefs in a country that has no patience for them. But most Westerners don't see the difference, we equate the two because Sammar's belief is inexplicable to us. But the book slowly changes that, we begin to understand what she is feeling because of Aboulela's poetry. We feel the grey Scottish fog press all around us, we feel the grey saturation, the cold, the isolation and loneliness inherent in Western society, and finally we feel the respite she gets from praying five times a day, and from studying the Quran. There are faults in every culture, though we can seldom see the ones in ours. But through Sammar's eyes we begin to see: our impatience, detachment, consumerism and lack of family. Sammar's name is the word for evening conversations or night talk where the whole family would gather and spend time together watching the sky before sleeping. This concept has all but disappeared in our busy lives where we don't even make time to have dinner together. But as Sammar is surprised to discover, because of the pollution and increase of Western ideas of consumerism, it is disappearing from the East as well. Sammar's perspective gives us pause to consider weather our ideas are really the right ones. Her love story with Rae gives us a chance to connect to her. Her desire to be loved, her fear of rejection, the harsh words that pour out of her when she feels rejected, and finally the humbling realization of her selfishness. Her struggle to achieve happiness while staying true to her beliefs shows the depth of her belief in a way that is tangible to our secular society.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    I was both absorbed by and ambivalent about this book - which is an oddity, because I wouldn't have thought it was possible to be both at once. But here I am - absorbed and ambivalent - having wanted very much to see where the story would go, and yet not really finding Aboulela's writing particularly compelling. The Translator focuses on the life of Summar, a young, Sudanese widow in Aberdeen, who translates Arabic texts for a department at the local university. There she meets Rae, an Islamic sc I was both absorbed by and ambivalent about this book - which is an oddity, because I wouldn't have thought it was possible to be both at once. But here I am - absorbed and ambivalent - having wanted very much to see where the story would go, and yet not really finding Aboulela's writing particularly compelling. The Translator focuses on the life of Summar, a young, Sudanese widow in Aberdeen, who translates Arabic texts for a department at the local university. There she meets Rae, an Islamic scholar, and they fall in love - which is, of course, only the beginning of everything. It sounds like a trite premise, but there's nothing trite about the telling - the obstacles Summar, in particular, faces as she tries to understand this new relationship are particular and moving (the power her first husband's mother has over her, the longing for home, a son in another country, her heartfelt faith). Yet the prose here is so stilted, so blockish and precise that much of what I wanted to get from Summar's story never came - no particularly deep sense of empathy or understanding, no real honest sense of her emotional landscape. I began to wonder, in the end, if the prose didn't match Summar's character - but that seems unfair, since when Summar is disconnected and displaced, she's sad and grieving, not acting on any particular character impulse. Does the prose match the clumsiness of English to someone who's used to speaking the grace of Arabic? I'm not sure. I never think the word 'interesting' really conveys very much, but this book was, definitely, interesting. I'm glad I read it, and I feel like I briefly saw the world through very different eyes - but I wasn't captivated in the way I have been with other literature.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Neira

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy but cannot be with him because their religions are different. Girl scolds boy and runs away, far, far away and prays boy will convert so they can be together. Boy converts and travels the many miles to find girl, and they marry and live happily ever after. Might have been written by the brothers Grimm in the 18/19th C had they lived a few thousand miles away. In addition the "feminist" protagonist, who I admit might be feminist given her circumstances, b Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy but cannot be with him because their religions are different. Girl scolds boy and runs away, far, far away and prays boy will convert so they can be together. Boy converts and travels the many miles to find girl, and they marry and live happily ever after. Might have been written by the brothers Grimm in the 18/19th C had they lived a few thousand miles away. In addition the "feminist" protagonist, who I admit might be feminist given her circumstances, blames the man entirely for the impediments in the relationship, acts impulsively like a teenager when he is unwilling to make a considerable sacrifice for her, but then yields and lowers her head before her mother-in-law. Other than that the first part is really good, the alienation, the rich characterisation of Rae, and the equally rich and romantic descriptions of the environments (another nod the Romantic tradition). It's a pity that from the ending of part one it becomes such a household fable.

  13. 4 out of 5

    georgia ☽

    4.5 stars the only reason i knocked .5 stars off was because something about the ending felt a little rushed. otherwise, this was wonderful - especially the stunning writing.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ibtisam hashim

    I was expecting a lot from this novel when i bought it! I am now disappointed..2 stars for its beautiful language & the rich scent of Sudan! I hated the gloomy side of Sammar,i hated her detachment from her son(her own flesh & blood),i hated how she cornered Rae to convert &marry her! LoL I loved the Sudan part of the story..it was closer to my soul!!

  15. 4 out of 5

    gwayle

    I enjoyed this understated love story between a widowed Sudanese woman, who is a devout Muslim, and a secular Islamic scholar for whom she translates. Half takes place in Aberdeen, Scotland and half in Khartoum, Sudan. Themes of faith, grief, exile, and family (some politics, but not much) explored with quiet and lovely prose.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is a beautiful novel, one which provides a window onto the Islamic faith and hope that there might be understanding between East and West.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shalini

    A gentle reflection on what is often lost in translation between cultures, told through a not-very- interesting love story.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    I really love Aboulela's writing style. In this novel, like her latter two, she has a precise yet lyrical writing style that really pulls the reader in. Aboulela can take the mundane and show just how special it really is. Whether it's the daily prayer that Muslims do, taking a child to school or sitting in an office and eating lunch with a co-worker, Aboulela manages to make these ordinary activities into something profound and meaningful with just a few words. As with her other novels, Aboulela I really love Aboulela's writing style. In this novel, like her latter two, she has a precise yet lyrical writing style that really pulls the reader in. Aboulela can take the mundane and show just how special it really is. Whether it's the daily prayer that Muslims do, taking a child to school or sitting in an office and eating lunch with a co-worker, Aboulela manages to make these ordinary activities into something profound and meaningful with just a few words. As with her other novels, Aboulela creates characters that are so real. Sammar's journey through grief, loneliness and love is beautiful because it is real. Aboulela doesn't try to make Sammar more or less sympathetic than she is. She just presents her with her strengths and her frailties, which allows the reader to connect with her on a personal level. Rae's journey is just as compelling. The romance between them is slow yet really tender. They are two lonely people who often feel isolated from others yet form this strong bond with each other. The conflict comes with their differing faith. She is a Muslim and he does not have a faith. The second half of the novel is primarily concerned with this conflict. If there is one critique I have (which I why I gave the novel four stars instead of five) is that I wish the novel were longer so that we could see more of Rae's spiritual journey. (view spoiler)[He converts to Islam at the end of the novel but I felt that Aboulela could have done a better job of showing the reader why he became Muslim: his thought processes, his emotions as he decided to become Muslim, etc. (hide spoiler)] Still, I really loved reading this novel and as usual, Aboulela impressed me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jalilah

    Spoiler alert ( even though the spoiler is hidden) Set in Scottland and Sudan, this novel is both moving and light. The story follows the life of a widowed Sudanese academic who works as a translator for a university professor. The author Leila Aboulela is extremely gifted in describing the leading characters thought process and alternating seamlessly between what is currently happening in her life, her feelings, memories and conversations. She describes very well the feeling of what it is like Spoiler alert ( even though the spoiler is hidden) Set in Scottland and Sudan, this novel is both moving and light. The story follows the life of a widowed Sudanese academic who works as a translator for a university professor. The author Leila Aboulela is extremely gifted in describing the leading characters thought process and alternating seamlessly between what is currently happening in her life, her feelings, memories and conversations. She describes very well the feeling of what it is like to be between places, being from one place and living in another. It is also a reflection on faith, for Sammar ( whose name translated from Arabic means talking with friends late at night, a Bedoiun tradition she explains) is a devout Muslim and is confronted with the experience of falling in love with someone outside of her religion. Though this might seem overly romantic (view spoiler)[The ending where the Scottish professor ends up converting for her (hide spoiler)] this is not a romance and it is definitely a book that one can appreciate even if one is not religious. In fact I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the immigrant experience, Islam and Muslim women.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hafsa

    Refreshing, serene, and honest. I think this is one of the first books I've read either about or by a Muslim woman that didn't make me want to bang my head against the wall. The two main characters--Rae and Sammar--are described so beautifully--and I enjoyed the simple way in which she described their budding relationship. The themes of love and loss, doubt and faith, prayer and patience, were beautifully navigated. One of my favorite lines was near the end, when Rae tells Sammar that what he re Refreshing, serene, and honest. I think this is one of the first books I've read either about or by a Muslim woman that didn't make me want to bang my head against the wall. The two main characters--Rae and Sammar--are described so beautifully--and I enjoyed the simple way in which she described their budding relationship. The themes of love and loss, doubt and faith, prayer and patience, were beautifully navigated. One of my favorite lines was near the end, when Rae tells Sammar that what he regrets most "is that I used to write things like 'Islam gives dignity to those who otherwise would not have dignity in their lives' as if I didn't need the dignity myself." Definitely recommend this!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Orla Hegarty

    This is the second book I've read by Ms. Aboulela and it did not disappoint. I love her writing style and her ability to capture complexity and nuance through a simple plot. I look forward to working my way through her modest treasure trove of writing. This is the second book I've read by Ms. Aboulela and it did not disappoint. I love her writing style and her ability to capture complexity and nuance through a simple plot. I look forward to working my way through her modest treasure trove of writing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Janet Hutchinson

    This is not a story of intrigue or mystery, but one of a woman's faith in her god, and the desire for love. Her writing beautifully contrasts Aberdeen and Khartoum, the damp grey cold against the hot, dry days. Beautifully written. This is not a story of intrigue or mystery, but one of a woman's faith in her god, and the desire for love. Her writing beautifully contrasts Aberdeen and Khartoum, the damp grey cold against the hot, dry days. Beautifully written.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Seawitch

    This is a quiet but powerful story.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tinea

    Beautiful, sure, but overwrought.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan Beecher

    Very moving and compelling novel about a Sudanese Muslim widow living in Scotland. Highly recommend.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    Written by an immigrant muslim woman, about an immigrant muslim woman, this book offers a new perspective on the divide between the northern and southern Euroafrican cultures; between the believers and the non-believers; between a society that embraces religion and the secular. The books takes the reader through a journey of memories, sometimes seamlessly woven into the text, yet never confusing. Of a childhood in Sudan, or the time following the death of Sammar's husband in Scotland. The langua Written by an immigrant muslim woman, about an immigrant muslim woman, this book offers a new perspective on the divide between the northern and southern Euroafrican cultures; between the believers and the non-believers; between a society that embraces religion and the secular. The books takes the reader through a journey of memories, sometimes seamlessly woven into the text, yet never confusing. Of a childhood in Sudan, or the time following the death of Sammar's husband in Scotland. The language is touching without putting on an air of intellectualism--touching, instead, on emotions further down. The descriptions of Sudan are so clear you can see them before you, but without other authors' excessive descriptions. It's words, scattered poetically between sentences that ties the language into itself. The book is without doubt a muslim one, and its views on Islam might be foreign to those of us muslims that grew up in the western world; yet, it offers something known. Did I see eye to eye with Sammar at all points, as I read her story? No. But it didn't really matter.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chahrazad

    So this is one of the moments when the mood for a nice love story strikes me. A love story not like the cheesy ones we see nowadays, but rather something of a transcendatalist nature.... And I found this one! Sammar, a Sudanese widowed translator, who lives in Aberdeen Scotland, faces loneliness and exile as her beloved husband, Tarig, dies in a car accident. Her faith keeps her from surrendering to a hollow life or to an inevitable suicide. She meets Rae, an Islamic scholar in the university whe So this is one of the moments when the mood for a nice love story strikes me. A love story not like the cheesy ones we see nowadays, but rather something of a transcendatalist nature.... And I found this one! Sammar, a Sudanese widowed translator, who lives in Aberdeen Scotland, faces loneliness and exile as her beloved husband, Tarig, dies in a car accident. Her faith keeps her from surrendering to a hollow life or to an inevitable suicide. She meets Rae, an Islamic scholar in the university where she works and they fall in love. This is a beautiful spiritual journey that renders to an extent the beauty of the Islamic faith. The characters' struggle with existentialist questions and their groping for meaning is depicted with mastery. Aboulela's prose is poetic and comes from the heart; deeply affecting.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Freda

    This is a wonderful book in every way - well written, true to life. The central character is a Muslim woman of Sudanese origin,Sammar, living in Scotland. She falls in love with a Scot secular Islamic scholar and goes through the agony of loving him but knowing that she has to keep her Islamic distance from him. Finally she pleads with him to take the Shahadah so they can marry. He refuses because he isn't sure that he believes. Since it is a 'romance' it ends happily when he accept Islam in his This is a wonderful book in every way - well written, true to life. The central character is a Muslim woman of Sudanese origin,Sammar, living in Scotland. She falls in love with a Scot secular Islamic scholar and goes through the agony of loving him but knowing that she has to keep her Islamic distance from him. Finally she pleads with him to take the Shahadah so they can marry. He refuses because he isn't sure that he believes. Since it is a 'romance' it ends happily when he accept Islam in his heart, and goes to her in Sudan so they can marry. This is a great book for Muslim and non Muslim teens to read. Information about various Islamic beliefs and culture are artfully given by the Islamic scholar and by Sammar as she clings to her faith and understands the wisdom of it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amira

    I give it a 3 out of 5. The plot unfolded slowly yet predictably. I probably made the mistake of reading her first novel last because she definitely grew as an author. Her other titles are far richer and more complex. This one, unlike the others, did not move me to tears even though I empathized with the Sammar, the woman in question. "I missed all that, you learning to pray.." "It's a lonely thing, he said, 'you can't avoid it'" "What?" "The spiritual path. Everyone is on his own in this." - The I give it a 3 out of 5. The plot unfolded slowly yet predictably. I probably made the mistake of reading her first novel last because she definitely grew as an author. Her other titles are far richer and more complex. This one, unlike the others, did not move me to tears even though I empathized with the Sammar, the woman in question. "I missed all that, you learning to pray.." "It's a lonely thing, he said, 'you can't avoid it'" "What?" "The spiritual path. Everyone is on his own in this." - The Translator, Leila Aboulela

  30. 5 out of 5

    Em

    Did not like and would not recommend this novel to anyone. It's a quick, easy read, but silly, without humour. Neither Sammar nor Rae have any likeable characteristics. Sammar is naive, selfish, self-righteous, and childish. She abandons her child because she feels sorry for herself. Rae is a caricature of an academic. Religious proselytizing puts me off. It didn't illuminate anything about Islam which was part of the reason I selected the book. On the positive side, the author has a wonderful way Did not like and would not recommend this novel to anyone. It's a quick, easy read, but silly, without humour. Neither Sammar nor Rae have any likeable characteristics. Sammar is naive, selfish, self-righteous, and childish. She abandons her child because she feels sorry for herself. Rae is a caricature of an academic. Religious proselytizing puts me off. It didn't illuminate anything about Islam which was part of the reason I selected the book. On the positive side, the author has a wonderful way with language and description. But I'd never read another.

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