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Leila Aboulela's American debut is a provocative, timely, and engaging novel about a young Muslim woman -- once privileged and secular in her native land and now impoverished in London -- gradually embracing her orthodox faith. With her Muslim hijab and down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich families whose houses she cleans in London. Twe Leila Aboulela's American debut is a provocative, timely, and engaging novel about a young Muslim woman -- once privileged and secular in her native land and now impoverished in London -- gradually embracing her orthodox faith. With her Muslim hijab and down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich families whose houses she cleans in London. Twenty years ago, Najwa, then at university in Khartoum, would never have imagined that one day she would be a maid. An upper-class Westernized Sudanese, her dreams were to marry well and raise a family. But a coup forces the young woman and her family into political exile in London. Soon orphaned, she finds solace and companionship within the Muslim community. Then Najwa meets Tamer, the intense, lonely younger brother of her employer. They find a common bond in faith and slowly, silently, begin to fall in love. Written with directness and force, Minaret is a lyric and insightful novel about Islam and an alluring glimpse into a culture Westerners are only just beginning to understand.


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Leila Aboulela's American debut is a provocative, timely, and engaging novel about a young Muslim woman -- once privileged and secular in her native land and now impoverished in London -- gradually embracing her orthodox faith. With her Muslim hijab and down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich families whose houses she cleans in London. Twe Leila Aboulela's American debut is a provocative, timely, and engaging novel about a young Muslim woman -- once privileged and secular in her native land and now impoverished in London -- gradually embracing her orthodox faith. With her Muslim hijab and down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich families whose houses she cleans in London. Twenty years ago, Najwa, then at university in Khartoum, would never have imagined that one day she would be a maid. An upper-class Westernized Sudanese, her dreams were to marry well and raise a family. But a coup forces the young woman and her family into political exile in London. Soon orphaned, she finds solace and companionship within the Muslim community. Then Najwa meets Tamer, the intense, lonely younger brother of her employer. They find a common bond in faith and slowly, silently, begin to fall in love. Written with directness and force, Minaret is a lyric and insightful novel about Islam and an alluring glimpse into a culture Westerners are only just beginning to understand.

30 review for Minaret

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a simple and clearly written story which takes a different look at the tensions within Islam, between men and women and life as an immigrant. Najwa is born into a high-ranking family in Sudan; she is a Muslim, but a secular one which consists mostly of good works. Her father is a business man who is closely connected to the regime. Najwa is studying to go to university and her life is westernised and privileged. She meets Anwar, also studying, but he is radical and left wing. He teases h This is a simple and clearly written story which takes a different look at the tensions within Islam, between men and women and life as an immigrant. Najwa is born into a high-ranking family in Sudan; she is a Muslim, but a secular one which consists mostly of good works. Her father is a business man who is closely connected to the regime. Najwa is studying to go to university and her life is westernised and privileged. She meets Anwar, also studying, but he is radical and left wing. He teases her about her family and connections. Then there is a coup and Najwa, her brother and mother flee to Britain; her father is arrested and hung. Over time Najwa’s life disintegrates; her mother dies, her brother is imprisoned for drug related offences. She meets Anwar again and they have a relationship, but she discovers his view of it is very different to hers and she is left humiliated. This takes the story from the mid 80s to the early 90s. The narrative jumps between the mid 2000s and earlier so the plot is not revealed in a linear way. Najwa becomes increasingly religious and over time takes work as a maid to wealthy Middle Eastern families and starts to wear the hijab. Najwa works for one particular family as a maid/childminder and becomes involved in some of the complex relationships within the household. What I found most interesting was the behind the scenes in the women’s side of the mosque, which provided insight in the community of women, which was gentle and supportive. This was in contrast to the men’s side; which although we don’t see it, we sense the different atmosphere and the tensions and much more competitive and aggressive form of religion. This has a particular effect on Tamar, the young man in the household Najwa works for. The usual assumptions that a westernised approach to life is always better and that Islam is fundamentally problematic are challenged. The growth of Najwa as a character is interesting as is her interactions with the other characters. Essentially, apart from being a story of personal change and adaption to circumstance Aboulela reminds us that the issue of extremism is more of an issue in the community of men, rather than in the community of women. It is also a window into a hidden life in the women’s section of the mosque which is communal, supportive and often centred around children. It was a refreshing perspective, a well put together novel, which adds a great deal to the general debate about the interface of religion, culture and politics which continues in all mixed societies.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bilqis

    I accidentally found this book in my college library amongst all the famous writers hiding away. the cover of the book appealed to me so I took it home. It was about two years ago and that was when my reading career began. was not much of a reader before. Now all I can remember is that I cried through it and didn't quite understand the ending. But this book always lingered on in my mind. After two years things changed, a lot of things happened, at that point I remembered what I read in this book, I accidentally found this book in my college library amongst all the famous writers hiding away. the cover of the book appealed to me so I took it home. It was about two years ago and that was when my reading career began. was not much of a reader before. Now all I can remember is that I cried through it and didn't quite understand the ending. But this book always lingered on in my mind. After two years things changed, a lot of things happened, at that point I remembered what I read in this book, I wanted to read it again I went back to the library but could not find it, I frantically searched in the Town library, but I still could not find it.Then I finally got it from online. I read it again and finally understood Najwa's decision at the end, now that I feel like I am at her position in life. I loved the character's journey( through her life) and her personal growth made me love and respect her. Najwa's story is very realistic and heart rendering at times but beautifully told ( which makes it so poetic).She Finds the most important thing in life. For me this book was a great eye opener, I learned something from Najwa and it will stay with me for ever. I recommend this book to everyone (specially to my Muslim sisters, it's a beautiful book)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Like "Brick Lane," this book allows us an intimate glimpse inside the life of an expatriate Muslim woman in London. But this heroine knew a life of extreme privilege when she was younger, until her family is shattered by a coup that overthrows her father and their security. Now she does servant work of the kind she used to have others do for her. And as her life evolves, she moves toward the faith that she has always been a part of but has never embraced. This is a beautiful, gentle book that ra Like "Brick Lane," this book allows us an intimate glimpse inside the life of an expatriate Muslim woman in London. But this heroine knew a life of extreme privilege when she was younger, until her family is shattered by a coup that overthrows her father and their security. Now she does servant work of the kind she used to have others do for her. And as her life evolves, she moves toward the faith that she has always been a part of but has never embraced. This is a beautiful, gentle book that raises questions about modern vs. traditional values and contests any easy assumptions that modern Muslim women would always choose Western ways and freedom if given the chance.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    I found Aboulela's description of life as a Sudanese woman struggling to make a living in London to be interesting, but Minaret was largely a morality tale. There was a hint of ambiguity in the ending which signalled that perhaps Najwa's conversion was not the only thing needed to bring her contentment, but overall this was a book in which the devout were the good guys and the atheists, or even the Muslim women who didn't want to veil, were shallow and venal. It was far too two-dimensional in it I found Aboulela's description of life as a Sudanese woman struggling to make a living in London to be interesting, but Minaret was largely a morality tale. There was a hint of ambiguity in the ending which signalled that perhaps Najwa's conversion was not the only thing needed to bring her contentment, but overall this was a book in which the devout were the good guys and the atheists, or even the Muslim women who didn't want to veil, were shallow and venal. It was far too two-dimensional in its approach, far too sweeping in its generalisations (I don't think that all Muslim fundamentalist men are secretly "tender and protective with their wives", nor do I think that becoming a hijabi protects you instantly from sexual harassment), and that coupled with somewhat opaque character development made Minaret an unsatisfying read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Zachary

    A Review of Minaret By Leila Aboulela for ENGL 358 In modern society there seems to be this over-arching generalization that Islam is this incredibly oppressive religion for women. This is coupled with the large lack of female voices in arguing a counter-case of this generalization that has allowed this view to go fairly undiscussed. As Mahmudul Hasan writes, “Muslim women have often been portrayed as disempowered, oppressed and belittled by Muslim men, subservient to their husbands with no equa A Review of Minaret By Leila Aboulela for ENGL 358 In modern society there seems to be this over-arching generalization that Islam is this incredibly oppressive religion for women. This is coupled with the large lack of female voices in arguing a counter-case of this generalization that has allowed this view to go fairly undiscussed. As Mahmudul Hasan writes, “Muslim women have often been portrayed as disempowered, oppressed and belittled by Muslim men, subservient to their husbands with no equal rights, utterly neglected by parents and mistreated as daughters-in-laws, and most notably always kept under the veil of ignorance and at home” (90). In general, the literary representations of Muslim women have been in validating this style of assumption and is done with a general lack of insider understanding. In modern society there have been few actual examples of female Muslim authors writing in such a way as to elevate the general perspective of Muslim women. Hasan continues that more often than not there “is a huge bulk of literature by women with Muslim names that describes similar misery stories containing accounts of patriarchal oppression in Muslim societies” (91). Thankfully Leila Aboulela wrote the novel Minaret in order to truly illustrate how a Muslim woman is able to function within society, and in such an honest way that the story may be misunderstood as flat or uneventful. The story itself opens in the early 1980’s in Khartoum the capital of Sudan with the main character Najwa experiencing a very secular upbringing. As a general understanding Sudan at the time represented in the novel was experiencing a certain form of stability after years of civil war. This would only hold for so long, both in real life and the novel. The realism portrayed is to such an extent that Aboulela’s novel could be likened to James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The reader is easily able to understanding historic references without the narrator ever having to truly explore them. Much like the opening section of the novel the reader is able to understand notes of modern history merely by mentions of the year. This adds to the poignancy of the novel and allows the reader to begin to focus their preconceived notions of a Muslim woman in modern Western civilization. One of the most important experiences in the novel comes from the inevitable Sudanese Coup in which resulted in the Sudanese Civil War of the early 1980’s (Rich). The reader is introduced to Najwa and her family as a well-off Sudanese family with government connections, and with a general knowledge of the outcome of the Civil War it is easy enough to infer what the potential conflicts that would shortly present themselves. As people began to emigrate from the war-torn country it is easy to imagine Najwa’s family following in the massive throngs. It is not these major moments of history that make this novel important. It is the close examination of Muslim culture and religion in such a way as to dispel ideas of oppression and control. The reader early on feels sorry for Najwa for the inevitable tragedies that befall her family due to the Civil War, and the assimilation into Western society. As the ultimate victim of Westernization Omar, Najwa’s twin brother, is incarcerated for dealing drugs once the family moves from Sudan to London after the coup. It is only once Najwa becomes a practitioner of Islam that the reader understands the true importance of Omar incarceration, as Najwa states “I wish that he [Omar] had been punished the very first time he took drugs. Punished according to the Shariah” (Aboulela). This moment illustrates an incredible change in the personal character of Najwa, a moment nearly three quarters of the way through the novel. Najwa begins to consider the greater ramifications of a person’s actions through the religious laws of Islam in relation to a past in which did not exist at the time. In relation to Najwa’s comment, Omar would not have been tried under Sharia law at the time he was doing drugs in Sudan. Omar is meant as a moral understanding, as are most of the men within the novel. Each man that Najwa comes into contact with allows herself and the reader to come to a better understanding of Islam. Whether it is Najwa’s father, who’s early fate makes a huge impact on the rest of the novel and allows Najwa to truly reflect on her view of Sudan. There is also Anwar who is both present in Najwa’s early life in Sudan, and her pre-Islamic life in London. He can be seen as a major catalyst of Najwa’s self-discovery. In one of the most distressing moments in the novel Najwa is playing cards with Anwar and his friends, as she comes to the realization that Ramadan has already begun. Despite her lack of true Islamic practices early in the novel Ramadan was one of the only times Najwa ever acted like a Muslim. This type of religious observance is very similar to most Christians who use Christmas and Easter as markers for their religious observance. It is not the point of this review to comment on the religious practices of anyone, but it may help to draw this comparison. Imagine for a second what it could mean to wake up on December 26 only to realize you had missed Christmas. This is exactly the type the of response in which Aboulela wants to illicit. The reader is meant to begin to understand the nagging sensation in which Najwa feels early in Sudan as she watches other Muslim women pray at school. As a catalyst for Najwa’s self-discovery the missed Ramadan allows the reader to understand the need for a major change. Anwar, much like Omar, becomes merely a moral examination for Najwa that allows her to better understand Islam as a way of living. The fact that Najwa is busy gambling as she learns of Ramadan makes the moment all the more potent in the readers understanding of Islam. As much of the novel is focused on Najwa life prior to her true conversion and practice of Islam the reader begins to understand a world very similar to their own. There is even a very extensive discussion throughout the novel of the wearing of different forms of scarves or body covering for Muslim women. Much like the rest of the novel this idea of being covered is both an important part of Islamic practice, as well as a way of connecting and discussing the practice with the reader in order to highlight the very personal decision in which comes with wearing any form of covering. In the first section of Minaret Najwa flips through magazines with her friends, a commonality to western young women, as they discuss the Iranian Revolution, and how women were photographed wearing full covering. Najwa also states a sentiment that many western countries have said regarding the head coverings, “I looked down at the picture and thought of all the girls in university who wore hijab and all the ones who wore tobes. Hair and arms covered by our national costume” (Aboulela). At no point is the reader overly surprised by the transition that Najwa comes to as a true convert to Islam as she begins to wear a tobe. It is not in the nature of Aboulela’s novel to surprise the reader. This type of writing is what makes the novel more about exploration and understanding than it is about entertainment. The reader is constantly given similar instances of misunderstanding of Islam from the perspective of Najwa as a way of commonality. Once Najwa develops a better understanding of common practices is the reader also brought to an even greater understanding. Luckily Najwa represents an insider, but in such a way as being an observer and a learner. The love affair, even nonsexual, between Najwa and Tamer allows an exploration of love in a very fundamental Islamic form. Aboulela’s examination of “fundamental” allows the reader to reexamine their own pre-conceived notion of the word. There is even a moment of exchange between Doctora Zeinab and Najwa where Doctora admits her fear for Tamer’s potential of being recruited into a terrorist organization based on her perceived understanding of his “radical” Islamic practices, but she reassures Najwa that “thankfully he’s not interested in politics” (Aboulela). This moment calls into question societies continued assertion that Muslims are all terrorists, allowing for an even greater examination of the representations of Muslims in literature. Continually the examination of Islamic practices is from within a closed community of insiders as Najwa. Rarely is the reader confronted with societies impression of Muslims, and even when they are Aboulela glosses over it as a common occurrence. Much in the vain of the rest novel Najwa subjected to religious discrimination as she is riding a bus in 2004 as a random man pours “Tizer” on her and calls her “Muslim scum” (Aboulela). This moment is not really observed more than cursory, but the reader begins to feel a certain indictment on a society in which is very much common place. Discrimination of this nature is not surprising, as before acknowledged, Aboulela is not interested in entertaining the reader. It is this type of illustration that adds to the continued understanding of Islamic women in society. What truly makes Minaret so important as a novel is its close examination of Islam from the perspective of someone who comes to a new and better understanding of what it truly means to be an Islamic practitioner. The reader goes alongside Najwa as a way of truly examining their own personal understanding of Islam, and how women fit into that much misunderstood religion. The importance of this self-discovery coming from the perspective of a woman is all too easy to understand. The very lack of voice given to Islamic women propagates the assumption of oppression; Aboulela gives the reader that much needed voice. Najwa allows the reader a friend in misunderstanding and assumption, as she begins to transform her own understanding of Islam. The fact that Aboulela focuses so much on surface understanding of historical relevance, but a heavy examination of Islamic practices prevents the reader from being bogged down in background information and focus on the more important subject of preconceived notion of Islam. The background information such as the Sudanese Civil War, migration, or modern terrorist attacks are truly unimportant to the greater understanding of Islam and women. Minaret is a must read for our modern society. Islam is such a prevalent subject on news and public discourse that it is in the best interest of all to truly examine how we understand the religion and its practitioners. Najwa is one of the strongest characters to take the journey of self-discovery on and end our misunderstandings of Islamic practitioners. Minaret is as much a novel as it is a discourse on modern society. In reading it we will all have a much better understanding of Islam than before, which inevitably makes this novel important all on its own. Works Cited Aboulela, Leila. Minaret. Black Cat, 2005. Hasan, Md. Mahmudul. "Seeking Freedom in the “Third Space” of Diaspora: Muslim Women's Identity in Aboulela's Minaret and Janmohamed's Love in a Headscarf." Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol. 35, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 89-105. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13602004.2015.1007666. Rich, Alex K. "Khartoum, Sudan." Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2014. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.umuc.edu/login?url=http://sea....

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Lameche

    I found this book a quick easy read. The story could've been great but for me it had no substance. Basically she was rich then she wasn't. She wasn't a practising Muslim, then she was. This book for me really isn't for adults. Teenagers yes. To be honest it just didn't have any oomph. 'SPOILER ALERT'. I didn't even care when her father or mother died. I'm not even sure that I cared too much for her either. It didn't my emotions going and I felt I was reading it just for the sake of it. Sorry I c I found this book a quick easy read. The story could've been great but for me it had no substance. Basically she was rich then she wasn't. She wasn't a practising Muslim, then she was. This book for me really isn't for adults. Teenagers yes. To be honest it just didn't have any oomph. 'SPOILER ALERT'. I didn't even care when her father or mother died. I'm not even sure that I cared too much for her either. It didn't my emotions going and I felt I was reading it just for the sake of it. Sorry I can't recommend this. Maybe I would've liked it more when I was 16 but I doubt it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    3.5 -4.0 stars. Up until about the last 50 pages this book was a 4.5 - 5 star book for me but then it seemed rushed with a slight sensational twist that didn’t fit well with the first part of the book. This is my second Leila Aboulela read and I look forward to reading Lyrics Alley. 3.5 -4.0 stars. Up until about the last 50 pages this book was a 4.5 - 5 star book for me but then it seemed rushed with a slight sensational twist that didn’t fit well with the first part of the book. This is my second Leila Aboulela read and I look forward to reading Lyrics Alley.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Abbie | ab_reads

    I enjoyed this book very much and it was very easy to read! The writing is simple and straightforward yet rich at the same time - as it’s first person, you really get to know Najwa well and watch her grow. It flits between Khartoum, where Najwa and her family are rich, her father working in the government, and where they are, for the most part, non-practising Muslims. . But after a coup which results in her father’s execution, Najwa, her brother Omar and her mother are forced to seek asylum in Lon I enjoyed this book very much and it was very easy to read! The writing is simple and straightforward yet rich at the same time - as it’s first person, you really get to know Najwa well and watch her grow. It flits between Khartoum, where Najwa and her family are rich, her father working in the government, and where they are, for the most part, non-practising Muslims. . But after a coup which results in her father’s execution, Najwa, her brother Omar and her mother are forced to seek asylum in London, where they find their bank account is slowly dwindling and their prospects not as they were in Sudan. . I think a lot of books with a focus on Islam recently tend to look at the extremist side, or western influences, so it was nice to read a book where a woman turns to religion to find solace and friendship in other practising Muslim women in her area and grow as a person! That was the best part for me, the community of women Najwa finds and their quiet, peaceful friendship. . Aboulela addresses other themes too, like class, education, drugs, and politics in an easy-to-approach way, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for her other books!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    The back cover promises that this book is " a stunning and insightful novel about one woman's journey toward spiritual peace." Whoever wrote that, though, was a lil bit crazy. Yes, this book does follow one woman's conversion from a secular, Westernized Muslim to a more conservative one - and gives that story a terrific twist because the secular lifestyle was in Sudan and the more conservative developments occur in bustling London. But there's precious little peace to be had here - the final sce The back cover promises that this book is " a stunning and insightful novel about one woman's journey toward spiritual peace." Whoever wrote that, though, was a lil bit crazy. Yes, this book does follow one woman's conversion from a secular, Westernized Muslim to a more conservative one - and gives that story a terrific twist because the secular lifestyle was in Sudan and the more conservative developments occur in bustling London. But there's precious little peace to be had here - the final scene makes clear that, despite the camaraderie that Najwa finds in the mosque, she has not been able to end her personal agony - and although religion plays a central role in the plot and character development, it seemed to me to be more of a symbol or a stand-in for what the main character was really seeking: a home and family. No, the real story here is one of forced emigration and exile, the loss of loved ones and homeland: put plainly, loss of identity and deep dismantling that Najwa, the protagonist, suffers due to the sins of her father. With that in mind, there's also an understated current of electricity around the political upheavals and disappointments that have shaken so many African nations for decades now which runs through the book, peeking out every now and then as if to taunt the reader. I was disappointed that the author chose not to develop this theme more clearly. Instead, Aboulela focuses almost entirely on character development of the protagonist. Others in the book are often conveniences and stereotypes - flat, not round. The plot moves ever so slowly - very little actually happens at all, actually, once the coup that sets her family's flight in motion occurs - and so, too, do the relationships Najwa experiences. As a matter of fact, the majority of her relationships disappear almost entirely, which I also found confounding. Not a terribly satisfying read, and definitely not one that left me feeling any kind of serenity.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Darcy

    My knowledge of Sudan, the Muslim religion, and those exiled to England after the political upheaval of the 80s is minimal, so I was intrigued by many of the issues in this novel. Overall, it was just a so-so read for me though. Najwa’s journey to spiritual fulfillment was the most satisfying part of this novel. Her voice was intimate and easy to identify with. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she chose to take what is considered a more conservative and prudish path in life. I think the a My knowledge of Sudan, the Muslim religion, and those exiled to England after the political upheaval of the 80s is minimal, so I was intrigued by many of the issues in this novel. Overall, it was just a so-so read for me though. Najwa’s journey to spiritual fulfillment was the most satisfying part of this novel. Her voice was intimate and easy to identify with. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she chose to take what is considered a more conservative and prudish path in life. I think the author, Leila Aboulela, did a good job of showing why a young woman would want to reject prominent Western ideals (such as freedom in dress, freedom from family, etc.). Through Najwa’s struggles, it’s easy to see how these things can be so oppressive and unfulfilling. I thought the comfort and renewal Najwa finds in the Muslim religion was beautiful. I’m afraid that’s where my praise of the novel ends. Much as I appreciated her spiritual enlightenment, I wanted more from Najwa. Even though Najwa has the courage to leave a bad relationship and to follow her desire to know and understand her religion, she never seems to gain any momentum as a character. She is unassertive and dull. It's as though the author, Leila Aboulela, thinks that women who are religious and conservative must also be thoroughly boring. Aboulela’s writing style is fairly simple and straightforward. There was nothing about it that excited me and I read this in a day. I can easily see this being shelved with the YA books. The love story was strange and the ending really bothered me. It felt incomplete and was completely unsatisfying. Overall, I would say that this is a good jumping off point for those who want to learn more about the Muslim religion and some contemporary issues in Sudan, but don’t set your expectations too high.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    I found this to be an excellent novel, and was a little upset that my local bookshop had filed it under something peculiar like 'black fiction'. This is a good story because it's a good story - that it illuminates an area of life many of us in the West find mysterious shouldn't lead to it being relegated to the 'minority interest' part of the book world. Aboulela has written about what makes a rather superficial young woman become a devout older one, and how her religious beliefs shape her conduc I found this to be an excellent novel, and was a little upset that my local bookshop had filed it under something peculiar like 'black fiction'. This is a good story because it's a good story - that it illuminates an area of life many of us in the West find mysterious shouldn't lead to it being relegated to the 'minority interest' part of the book world. Aboulela has written about what makes a rather superficial young woman become a devout older one, and how her religious beliefs shape her conduct with a younger man who finds her appealing - should she take her chance to be loved and admired, or should she try to guide him into a life that allows harmony between him and his family and wider society? Again, the fact that this devotion to faith is Islamic doesn't matter, it could be Hindu or Quaker, the point is that this beautifully observed narrative takes us inside the mind, morals, memories and fears of a woman struggling to make sense of the world, and the nature of the faith that is found is incidental to the delicacy with which Aboulela conveys the changes in one woman's personality and belief system. The nature of British society and how it treats Muslim women is sharply delineated and fascinating and makes a good contrast to the more subtle internal geography of what it means to be Islamic in the modern world which is explored with calm authority and a certain amount of poetic clarity.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Minaret is an easy reading, if disappointing, story. Najwa was born into a wealthy, well connected Sudanese family, but is forced to flee with her mother and brother into exile after a political coup. As time drags on, Najwa makes the transition from wealthy, carefree teenager to middle-aged, religious housekeeper. This could have been a fascinating story, but Leila Aboulela’s tale wanders about, never really making a point, and resorts to cheap tricks to keep readers interested. The overarching Minaret is an easy reading, if disappointing, story. Najwa was born into a wealthy, well connected Sudanese family, but is forced to flee with her mother and brother into exile after a political coup. As time drags on, Najwa makes the transition from wealthy, carefree teenager to middle-aged, religious housekeeper. This could have been a fascinating story, but Leila Aboulela’s tale wanders about, never really making a point, and resorts to cheap tricks to keep readers interested. The overarching plot seems to be a woman’s acceptance of and interest in Islam as she lives as a housekeeper in London. However, rather than present this change over time, as would make sense, Aboulela keeps jumping around in time to create cliffhangers and unnecessary suspense that distracts from the main plot, and makes you want to read to get the rest of the story, which she doesn’t even always follow through with, rather than because you actually care. Moreover, it becomes pretty obvious that Najwa is embracing Islam less because she has a genuine religious conversion or understands something about her early life (either of which would have made for a much stronger narrative), as it is because she’s a sheep lacking a shepherd. Nejwa relates herself that she isn’t particularly smart, and has little initiative. She is constantly searching for someone—her family, her boyfriend, her employer, people at her mosque—to tell her what to do. When these instructions go along with her desires, she’s happy, and when they don’t, she decides that because of family/religious obligations, she must do them anyway and knows Allah will reward her. The two romances in the book didn’t feel fully fleshed out, and seemed more plot devices to keep readers engaged, than as actually making sense. The latter one—Tamar—seemed almost laughable in its quick resolution and improbable scenario and the story ends very abruptly. The voice of the narrator, particularly in the early sections of the book, seemed to be self-consciously narrating her own story, almost to the point of an affectation. I really don’t understand the hype and good reviews this book received. The only explanation for most of my complaints is that Najwa is an unreliable (or more properly, a stupid) narrator, and all the strange and non-sensical things that happen are simply her misreading of what is going on around her. In either case, this basically confirms that I really don’t care to hear the internal monologue of boring, stupid people.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Astari Masitha

    I'll say something straight about Najwa, A.K.A. the main character in this book. I have to admit she is a tough teenager. The misery she felt, from the death of her father, followed by her mother, and his brother in jail, didn't make a single doubt in her heart to go back to the path she believed, was right. After having experienced the western liberal life, she had the intentions of purifying herself and start over. Now that's a rare choice. The dialogues between Najwa and Anwar, Najwa and Omar I'll say something straight about Najwa, A.K.A. the main character in this book. I have to admit she is a tough teenager. The misery she felt, from the death of her father, followed by her mother, and his brother in jail, didn't make a single doubt in her heart to go back to the path she believed, was right. After having experienced the western liberal life, she had the intentions of purifying herself and start over. Now that's a rare choice. The dialogues between Najwa and Anwar, Najwa and Omar, then Najwa and Tamer were dialogues that I find to be the climax of the story. There was an excerpt that caught my attention, mentioning how easily God forgives, and how we as humans should be ashamed. The more we understand the mercy of God, the more we feel humiliated of our own sins.

  14. 4 out of 5

    ↠Ameerah↞

    Minaret tells the story of Najwa, an upper-class Sudanese girl who lived an affluent life in Khartoum. However, following a coup and the arrest of her father on corruption charges, she and her family are forced to leave Sudan and end up settling in London. The story jumps between two timelines. The past that describes her life back in Khartoum where she lived confidently and comfortably, attended university and had the help of maids seeing to her every need. To her life in London where she now w Minaret tells the story of Najwa, an upper-class Sudanese girl who lived an affluent life in Khartoum. However, following a coup and the arrest of her father on corruption charges, she and her family are forced to leave Sudan and end up settling in London. The story jumps between two timelines. The past that describes her life back in Khartoum where she lived confidently and comfortably, attended university and had the help of maids seeing to her every need. To her life in London where she now works as a maid herself and her prosperous lifestyle is now a fond memory cloaked in shame and fear. I admit when I first started reading this, I was unsure about it and didn't know if I wanted to continue. The writing didn't capture me and at the start, I felt that maybe this book was aimed at a younger audience. However, after finishing the book, I think that Leila so cleverly used her writing as an extension of Najwa's character development. Najwa was innocent, young, naive at times and the writing really reflected that. As Najwa matured and her character developed, the writing became more nuanced and I started falling in love with it. I have never read about a character quite like Najwa. She is complicated but at the same time simple and straightforward. She is extremely honest and sincere in her thoughts and actions. She says things that many of us would be scared to utter out loud out of fear of being too vulnerable or judged by others. What captivated me the most was her spiritual journey. It was a journey that many people of faith can relate to. The fluctuations of emaan and finding your way back to God as you go through the ebb and flow of life. There was no elaborate or drastic change or an event that lead up to Najwa undertaking a spiritual journey. It was a slow, genuine progression. One that strived for internal peace and contentment which is why I was slightly disappointed by the ending. I had become attached to Najwa and after everything she had faced, I was really hoping she would get the ending she deserved. I guess the ending was a reflection of reality. In life, there isn't always a perfect, happy ending and believing and accepting that is also a part of finding contentment and peace too. There is a lot more I could say about this book but I think going into this knowing nothing or very little would be best. This story will stay with me for a while and so will Najwa.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    Minaret follows the story of Najwa, from her privileged youth in Sudan to her impoverished exile in England, where her life and world view is transformed not just by her loss of status, but also her spiritual awakening as she seeks solace in a world which has been deprived of all meaning for her. The narrative frequently jumps back in time, which helps the reader steadily build a picture of her transformation from a confident, spoiled, rich Westernised young woman to somebody who has outlook on Minaret follows the story of Najwa, from her privileged youth in Sudan to her impoverished exile in England, where her life and world view is transformed not just by her loss of status, but also her spiritual awakening as she seeks solace in a world which has been deprived of all meaning for her. The narrative frequently jumps back in time, which helps the reader steadily build a picture of her transformation from a confident, spoiled, rich Westernised young woman to somebody who has outlook on life has radically changed over time due to the hardships she has faced, who has found sustenance in a religious identity she has slowly discovered for herself. In many ways her new career as a maid helps her to realise this, as she sees her old self reflected in the supercilious and superficial people she works for and is therefore able to more readily accept the loss of her superficial status for something far more substantial. Whilst it is refreshing to have a story focus on a character who wears a hijab, it can sometimes feel like the characters who surround her, as with her other novel 'Bird Summons', act as nothing more than caricatures (the arrogant brother, the naive, idealistic and love-struck young man)  as they lack the depth which Aboulela is able to imbue Najwa with. Nevertheless Minaret is an interesting exploration of life in Sudan and the difficult transition not just to a new country and new culture, but in how a persons experience radically changes how they perceive the world. 

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sookie

    Minaret is a young woman's journey to find peace after undergoing a major life upheaval. Najwa, an upper class Muslim girl in Sudan is displaced to Britain after a political turmoil in her country. Alone and not affluent anymore, she becomes a maid to wealthy Muslim family to earn her keep. Najwa seeks spirituality and finds it in religion. Minaret plays on distinct lack of presence of an idea to make the idea seem bolder and provocative. In Sudan, she is fairly westernized and when she lands in Minaret is a young woman's journey to find peace after undergoing a major life upheaval. Najwa, an upper class Muslim girl in Sudan is displaced to Britain after a political turmoil in her country. Alone and not affluent anymore, she becomes a maid to wealthy Muslim family to earn her keep. Najwa seeks spirituality and finds it in religion. Minaret plays on distinct lack of presence of an idea to make the idea seem bolder and provocative. In Sudan, she is fairly westernized and when she lands in Britain, the world is overwhelming. For Najwa, peace and tranquility comes to her as she slowly integrates herself into religion. Besides Najwa, the characters Leila writes don't offer a balance or a fresh perspective. It is ambiguous at its best when the protagonist makes distinct observations on atheists and unveiled women, which are fairly biased. Moral subtexts aside, Minaret is an introspective view on an issue set in the 80s but works on modern conundrums as well. Najwa is relatable and her conflicts aren't fictional.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kasey Jueds

    I started out feeling lukewarm about this book... wanting to keep reading because the setting (Sudan) and context were so new and compelling to me, but otherwise not really entranced. Then (I'm not sure when exactly--maybe about a third of the way through?) I started to love the main character, Najwa, and didn't want to put the book down. Maybe this didn't happen for a while because Najwa isn't really that likeable in the beginning; she's actually pretty shallow. But then her life changes drasti I started out feeling lukewarm about this book... wanting to keep reading because the setting (Sudan) and context were so new and compelling to me, but otherwise not really entranced. Then (I'm not sure when exactly--maybe about a third of the way through?) I started to love the main character, Najwa, and didn't want to put the book down. Maybe this didn't happen for a while because Najwa isn't really that likeable in the beginning; she's actually pretty shallow. But then her life changes drastically (lots of other reviewers have commented on the plot, so I won't bother), and she changes, as well. Probably the most significant change is her transformation from observing Islamic law/customs in a surface-y way to genuinely believing in and living her religion. Leila Aboulela writes movingly about spiritual life--which always seems like an incredibly difficult subject to get "right"--and I loved the fact that her story is told from the point of view of a devout, conservative, and deeply sympathetic Muslim woman. I finished Minaret almost a week ago and haven't been able to stop thinking about it; I imagine it will be with me for a long time (plus now I want to read another of Aboulela's books, The Translator).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Em*bedded-in-books*

    the story of Najwa, a girl born to affluent and politically ambitious parents in Sudan, whose life started degrading when her father was accused of treachery and corruption (which he possibly did) when the old regime fell to the new in the nineties. She had to flee to London as asylum seeker along with her mother and twin brother, and none of them recovered, either mentally or monetarily. The book goes on to describe how she faced her hardships and how she evolved into a strong person towards th the story of Najwa, a girl born to affluent and politically ambitious parents in Sudan, whose life started degrading when her father was accused of treachery and corruption (which he possibly did) when the old regime fell to the new in the nineties. She had to flee to London as asylum seeker along with her mother and twin brother, and none of them recovered, either mentally or monetarily. The book goes on to describe how she faced her hardships and how she evolved into a strong person towards the end. I loved reading about Sudan, Islam, beliefs, faith and such like. I could not but make a comparision to the character, Astha [I read in my previous book, 'A married woman' - Manju Kapur]who seemed a fickle cry-baby when compared to Najwa.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laolu

    I only set out to fulfil my quota of African lit to read this year and in exchange I got; carthasis, quiet rage and a schooling on Islam that was done in a way could be easily mistook for tepid -as the book itself-, except I found myself deeply overcome after the read. Besides the easy diction, the book's pace - not fast, not slow -, I think, made it a page-turner. Easy and flowery and precise still. Najwa (protagonist) might not be intelligent (She definitely could've made some less self-harmin I only set out to fulfil my quota of African lit to read this year and in exchange I got; carthasis, quiet rage and a schooling on Islam that was done in a way could be easily mistook for tepid -as the book itself-, except I found myself deeply overcome after the read. Besides the easy diction, the book's pace - not fast, not slow -, I think, made it a page-turner. Easy and flowery and precise still. Najwa (protagonist) might not be intelligent (She definitely could've made some less self-harming decisions), but she definitely was a thinker and a master of the art of quiet rage and all through the book I sat at her feet and learnt her sagely ways -

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sharmila

    I LOVED THIS BOOK, ONE OF MY FAVOURITES!! This book is written beautifully and I cannot say there is anything I don't like about it. I can easily relate to her about faith being important part in life.It looks into the mind of a faithful muslim women, who is true to herself. 5* I LOVED THIS BOOK, ONE OF MY FAVOURITES!! This book is written beautifully and I cannot say there is anything I don't like about it. I can easily relate to her about faith being important part in life.It looks into the mind of a faithful muslim women, who is true to herself. 5*

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ana Ovejero

    A truthful account of the life of a Muslim woman and her way toards religion. She is Sudanese and you get to know her life before her actual days as a maid in London. The romantic side of the narrative is kept realistic, and that is what I really like about it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sinead Anja (Huntress of Diverse Books)

    Check out my book blog for more book reviews and other bookish posts! I had had Minaret on my Kindle for quite a while, but never really had the right opportunity to read it. So when I heard of Ramadan Readathon, I just knew that I had to include this book in my TBR. It follows the story of a upper-class Sudanese woman, who ends up living in poverty in London. It’s #ownvoices for Muslim and Sudanese representation. __ Najwa is an interesting character, and the people who meet her in the book don’t r Check out my book blog for more book reviews and other bookish posts! I had had Minaret on my Kindle for quite a while, but never really had the right opportunity to read it. So when I heard of Ramadan Readathon, I just knew that I had to include this book in my TBR. It follows the story of a upper-class Sudanese woman, who ends up living in poverty in London. It’s #ownvoices for Muslim and Sudanese representation. __ Najwa is an interesting character, and the people who meet her in the book don’t realise that she used to be somebody quite different. Now she is poor, a refugee, a servant, a hijabi, and religious. But there is a huge story as to how she became the person she is. And while we as readers learn about her story, we also see how she finds out more about the people that she used to look down at or laugh about, as she herself is now one of them. It’s a harsh reality for her, and for many people around the world, this isn’t a fictional reality but a reality that they experience every single day. There was a slave analogy that I found totally harsh, as the main character says that she wishes she was a slave. Her friend calls her out on this. This book was incredibly slow-paced, I totally didn’t expect that. It took quite a long time to find out how Najwa felt about events after they had happened, and I still feel like we didn’t find out how Najwa felt about certain subjects even though this book is written from her perspective and is in first person. This story only focusses on Najwa and I felt like she was the only character that was developed. The others were part of her story but did not seem to exist outside of the narration. __ I think that Minaret is a beautiful story, but it just didn’t work for me. However, that is not to say that you might not like it, and I totally think you should give it a try if you’re interested in the premise.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Jane

    See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits 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 abo See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits 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!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mrtruscott

    This was a stealth novel, with some lines of great writing slipped in, the kind of writing that could be flashy/too much if overdone. Khartoum, Sudan — the names alone are evocative and sent me off to refresh my (very limited) knowledge of this part of the world. Political unrest, a family in exile in London.. this book follows the experiences of a young woman, over time, who is happy with and confused by the freedoms of her life in London, and homesick for her old life. A slow but detailed novel This was a stealth novel, with some lines of great writing slipped in, the kind of writing that could be flashy/too much if overdone. Khartoum, Sudan — the names alone are evocative and sent me off to refresh my (very limited) knowledge of this part of the world. Political unrest, a family in exile in London.. this book follows the experiences of a young woman, over time, who is happy with and confused by the freedoms of her life in London, and homesick for her old life. A slow but detailed novel, with well drawn characters and settings and just enough plot and realistic heartbreak. in the past year or so, I’ve read several novels about immigrants. And whether they are about dreamers or refugees forced to leave their homes, I find these books important and difficult for me to read. There’s an underlying “existential homesickness” in people who are transplanted to another country. I can’t even imagine, so I read, and remind myself that our country was built by immigrants — some who came unimaginable distances in search of religious freedom, opportunity, a sense of adventure, whatever, and by many others who were brought here involuntarily. Our homesick founding parents.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Azeeza

    When a political coup happened in Sudan, Najwa and her family were forced into exile in London. She lost everything, her parents, her status. The story is about Najwa and how she is forced to live a life different from what she imagined, from being the daughter of rich parents to being a maid in a new country, from being loved by her parents and twin brother, to being orphaned, alone, empty spaces. The story is also about Najwa finding her way to Islam and falling in love with her employer’s son, When a political coup happened in Sudan, Najwa and her family were forced into exile in London. She lost everything, her parents, her status. The story is about Najwa and how she is forced to live a life different from what she imagined, from being the daughter of rich parents to being a maid in a new country, from being loved by her parents and twin brother, to being orphaned, alone, empty spaces. The story is also about Najwa finding her way to Islam and falling in love with her employer’s son, young enough to be her son. I love how the love story is slow, simple, almost like it isn’t there. I don’t really know if it’s love or a crush? Najwa’s thirst to be really seen by someone after a long time? Or maybe I’m just being cynical because of the age difference? I don’t know. But I love the story, it’s so smooth and I love Najwa’s transition and growth from a meek, naive girl to a woman who knows what she wants and willing to go for it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Darkowaa

    Check out -> http://africanbookaddict.wordpress.co... I preferred the beginning of this novel. The storyline towards the middle got a bit annoying. Najwa (the protagonist) falling in love with Tamer, her employer’s son was a bit strange to me. Why is this almost 40 year old in love with a 19 year old university student? I found Tamer way too judgmental as he thought he was a better muslim than others. Najwa was a little too naiive for my liking. Her fate was very sad, as she was orphaned quite ea Check out -> http://africanbookaddict.wordpress.co... I preferred the beginning of this novel. The storyline towards the middle got a bit annoying. Najwa (the protagonist) falling in love with Tamer, her employer’s son was a bit strange to me. Why is this almost 40 year old in love with a 19 year old university student? I found Tamer way too judgmental as he thought he was a better muslim than others. Najwa was a little too naiive for my liking. Her fate was very sad, as she was orphaned quite early in the novel, due to political instability in Sudan. I didn’t find Najwa to be a strong muslim woman I could learn from. Surely, she had her strengths- like how to keep her cool, act meek, she was very kind and regarded others' feelings. Throughout the novel, she was growing spiritually and trying to become a better person, muslim. But by the end, I didn’t really see a lot of growth. Leila Aboulela is a great writer. I loved the calmness and simplicity in her writing. It made me appreciate the muslim culture and the importance of women wearing hijabs and tobes. I just wish the love story between Tamer (the 19 year old) and Najwa was more realistic and didn’t take up 3/5ths of the storyline. But I still look forward to reading more Aboulela books.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Val

    Najwa comes from a privileged Sudanese family; her mother's family own land and businesses, while her father is a minister in Nimeiri's government. She and her twin brother are students at Khartoum University when the 1985 coup overthrows Nimeiri, her father is arrested and the rest of the family flee to London. This social and political background to the story is very well done, illuminating the state of the country while staying true to the characters. Najwa and her family are urban and Wester Najwa comes from a privileged Sudanese family; her mother's family own land and businesses, while her father is a minister in Nimeiri's government. She and her twin brother are students at Khartoum University when the 1985 coup overthrows Nimeiri, her father is arrested and the rest of the family flee to London. This social and political background to the story is very well done, illuminating the state of the country while staying true to the characters. Najwa and her family are urban and Westernised, but some fellow students adhere to a stricter Muslim tradition, while others embrace communism as a cure for the corruption and inequality in the country. The rest of the book takes place in London, but leaps forward to 2003-2004 and back to 1989-1991 a few times. An adult and much less naive Najwa thinks about the meaning of Islam, while dealing with her changed circumstances, her family problems, the legacy of her background and her feelings about men. The religious aspects of the book are handled well, we follow Najwa through her journey step by step and it all makes sense. It is also a feminist book, all the women are strong characters who usually support each other and they all find fulfillment in different ways which are right for them.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zainab Bakry

    I love real books that deal with real people going through real life situations, and this is one of them. Through Najwa, I have experienced life in Sudan in a way I haven't before- even though I myself am Sudanese and have lived in Sudan for 6 years. What I love about the book is how it deals with the idea of escapism; passing through life without actually living it. Each one of us uses some mean of escaping during situations we feel we cannot handle. And in one form or another, all of the charac I love real books that deal with real people going through real life situations, and this is one of them. Through Najwa, I have experienced life in Sudan in a way I haven't before- even though I myself am Sudanese and have lived in Sudan for 6 years. What I love about the book is how it deals with the idea of escapism; passing through life without actually living it. Each one of us uses some mean of escaping during situations we feel we cannot handle. And in one form or another, all of the characters in Minaret had a special method of running away. For some, it was alcohol, others it was drugs, or relationships, or politics, and most importantly, religion. For me, Minaret is a story of a girl's journey from one means of escapism (the glamorous lifestyle of a rich westernized Sudanese) to a more spiritual and internal way -Islam. Written in a very simple, gripping prose with a bit of suspense, Minaret added up to a very compelling read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jalilah

    This is Leila Aboulela's first novel. I read it after reading her other more recent novels The Translator and her latest The Kindness of Enemies. It's interesting to note how much she has grown as an author. This is a good book, not as good as the other two but still well written and engaging. She possesses a talent to take you to the time and place of the characters without being overly wordy or descriptive. As in all her works, Abuleila excellently and accurately depicts the experience of bein This is Leila Aboulela's first novel. I read it after reading her other more recent novels The Translator and her latest The Kindness of Enemies. It's interesting to note how much she has grown as an author. This is a good book, not as good as the other two but still well written and engaging. She possesses a talent to take you to the time and place of the characters without being overly wordy or descriptive. As in all her works, Abuleila excellently and accurately depicts the experience of being between cultures. I love her writing and hope she continues because I'll read all her novels.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Coswig

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I love how realistic and raw, yet poetic, Aboulela’s prose is. The details are so down to earth – especially mentions of Playstation "football" (soccer) games, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the Powerpuff Girls, and the lines of the London Underground. I love how Najwa finds out that she likes housework – that’s kind of like me, as weird as it sounds, but there’s something about getting on your knees and getting something done that appeals to me. I love the conflicting feelings Najwa has a I love how realistic and raw, yet poetic, Aboulela’s prose is. The details are so down to earth – especially mentions of Playstation "football" (soccer) games, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the Powerpuff Girls, and the lines of the London Underground. I love how Najwa finds out that she likes housework – that’s kind of like me, as weird as it sounds, but there’s something about getting on your knees and getting something done that appeals to me. I love the conflicting feelings Najwa has about her situation, because really, c’est la vie. I especially love Aboulela’s use of characters to debate the importance of religion. Anwar looks in derision at those who wear hijab, and yet many people willfully take that on; Najwa is not one to pray, and yet others are devout Muslims.

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