Society & Culture

Critical Reviews of Novel “ River Spirit “ (1) : By Leila Aboulela

Agencies- Sudan Events

These are attempts to translate some of the critical reviews published in Western newspapers and Sphere websites of Leila Aboulela’s latest novel “River Spirit,”
1/ The first review by Megha Majumdar : Indian novelist who now lives in New York published this critical review in the New York Times on March 7, 2023.
In 19th-century Sudan, with the Ottoman Empire fading and Britain gaining influence in the region, a religious leader proclaims himself the Mahdi, or the redeemer.
He aims to correct the wrongs — excessive taxation, for one — of the foreign rulers.
But as the revolution gains strength, and the Mahdi collects followers, his greed for power tarnishes the movement’s ideological purity. Leila Aboulela’s dazzling new novel, “River Spirit,” follows the course of that revolution as it turns into a new instrument of oppression.
In this turbulent time live the novel’s cast of characters. There’s Yaseen, a merchant turned jurist whose principled stance against the Mahdi leads him to peril.
“We call him the Mutamahdi, the fake Mahdi, the impostor,” Yaseen says. “Brave words and yet our nerves are on edge, our confidence in tatters.” Salha is Yaseen’s wife and a formidable woman who makes a heartbreaking sacrifice. Yaseen’s mother, Fatimah, carves out her own channel of subversion, in a political life hidden from her family. And Yaseen’s friend Isma’il suppresses his skepticism in order to do the Mahdi’s bidding, until he must, at last, choose between obedience and a treasured friendship.
The novel compels us to look at the methods by which he pursues his art — enslaving, however reluctantly, a person to force her to pose for him — and asks if it is ever possible to create something beautiful from the ugliest of moral transgressions.

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