This review of Leila Aboulela’s novel was published in the excellent Wasafiri magazine.
It’s the mid twentieth century, as British control over north east Africa fails. Sudanese cotton tycoon Mahmoud Abuzeid, awarded the title Bey by Egypt’s King Farouk, is pulled between his two wives.
“They belonged to different sides of the saraya, to different sides of him. He was the only one to negotiate between these two worlds, to glide between them, to come back and forth at will.”
The two wives share a compound. Sudanese Waheeba in her hoash – a traditional living space half open to the air – represents “decay and ignorance…the stagnant past” to gregarious, multi-lingual Mahmoud. Egyptian Nabilah, much younger, better educated, attempts to recreate Cairo in her Italian-furnished modern salon. She represents “the glitter of the future..sophistication.” But events question such easy distinctions.