Ken Silverstein Considers the Arabic Novel in Sudan

sudan

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

In “Eloquent Phantom: Tayeb Salih’s search for an elusive present,” Ken Silverstein talks about a newly translated important classic work of fiction that takes place partly in Sudan, partly in London. Season of Migration to the North was written by one who sees everything through poet’s eyes. (Tayeb Salih died just a few months ago.) Silverstein also examines the Arabic novel as a genre, saying:

Written Arabic, fusha, stands at a remove from the quotidian worlds of family, street, and workplace, where a colloquial language is used …Almost all Arabic novels are written in fusha, which cannot but establish a certain distance between the elevated medium of description and the mundane events it describes-in other words, between style and content.

In Season of Migration to the North the protagonist, who has been away studying in Britain for years, is now home among the date palms beside the Nile in the boondocks of North Africa. He meets a man who plans to “liberate Africa with his penis.” This stranger is also a self-confessed murderer who soon disappears. The narrator tries to piece together the stranger’s story, to the point where it becomes an obsession. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is mixed up in this somehow, as are politics, race, and colonialism.

Investigative reporter Silverstein has written extensively about North Africa, and he has quite a lot to say about the Sudan-Darfur situation and the uproar over Sudan’s slave trade. He is fed up with political journalism everywhere. “The idea seems to be that we go out to report but when it comes time to write we turn off our brains and repeat the spin from both sides.” He is now the Washington Editor for Harper’s.

Sudan is mostly flat and dry, with jaggedy mountains and terrifying sandstorms, nomadic peoples, and endangered animal species. It appears to encompass about 40 different ethnic groups, and has been rated by the Failed States Index as the world’s second most politically unstable country.

SOURCE: “Eloquent Phantom: Tayeb Salih’s search for an elusive present” 06/10/09
photo courtesy of Radio Nederland Wereldomroep , used under this Creative Commons license

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