Review: “The Translator” by Leila Aboulela

Thumbs up for The Translator by Leila Aboulela. Literature.

I was traveling to Edinburgh and wasn’t able to find any book set there that wasn’t either too cutesy or too bleak for my taste, so I had to accept Aberdeen as a close-enough setting. The Translator is about a Muslim Sudanese-Scottish widow who works as an Arabic translator at a Scottish university. She falls in love with her (non-Muslim) boss and…it is not that sort of romance. The writing is absolutely beautiful, so much so that it kept me enraptured even on the plane (in a streak of bad luck, I struggle to read while traveling). Lovely, and highly recommended if you like books with a strong sense of place.

Outside, Sammar stepped into a hallucination in which the world had swung around. Home had come here. Its dimly lit streets, its sky and the feel of home had come here and balanced just for her. She saw the sky cloudless with too many stars, imagined the night warm, warmer than indoors. She smelled dust and heard the barking of stray dogs among the street’s rubble and pot-holes. A bicycle bell tinkled, frogs croaked, the muezzin coughed into the microphone and began the azan for the Isha prayer. But this was Scotland and the reality left her dulled, unsure of herself. This had happened before but not for so long, not so deeply. Sometimes the shadows in a dark room would remind her of the power cuts at home or she would mistake the gurgle of the central-heating pipes for a distant azan. But she had never stepped into a vision before. home had never come here before. It took time to take in the perfect neatness of the buildings and the gleaming road. It took time for the heating in Yasmin’s car to clear the mist of their breath on the window panes.


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