Chosen by Leila Aboulela
Sudanese novelist Leila Aboulela, who lives and works in Scotland, is the award-winning author of Minaret, The Translator, and The Kindness of Enemies. Her new story collection, Elsewhere, Home, has just been published by Black Cat.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938). When I was 10 years old, my family set out on a safari at Dinder National Park in eastern Sudan. The drive through jungles, sleeping in a hut, seeing lions and giraffes—all that faded into the background with the first line of the novel I had carried along: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz (1962). The Egyptian revolution of 1952 sweeps civil servant Isa aside; he loses his job and his fiancée dumps him. Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, details Isa’s fall on the wrong side of history—all of this against the bleak backdrop of a wintry windswept Alexandria, empty of holidaymakers.
Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai (1999). In a crumbling leafy bungalow in India, a dutiful daughter is restricted by her bad luck and selfish parents. This is juxtaposed against the culture shock felt by her brother, a student in the U.S. who is staying with a family in which the only daughter has an eating disorder. This is Desai at her most beautiful and insightful.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866). Raskolnikov, the poor student, justifies to himself the murder of an old woman, a pawnbroker. A powerful theological warning against the arrogance of reason, Crime and Punishment is a big novel on the meaning of life. But it’s also gritty, gripping, and its depiction of city life gives it a modern feel. In addition to all that, Raskolnikov is the coolest hero ever.
The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih (1962). Against the odds, a village idiot with two teeth left in his head ends up marrying the village’s most beautiful girl. Rooted in tradition and Islamic mysticism, this novella is a quintessentially Sudanese classic.
The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing (1974). In a post-apocalyptic England, an elderly woman still reeling from an event that everyone calls “the crisis” is given a 12-year-old girl to look after. As the physical world disintegrates around them, the walls in the woman’s apartment dissolve and she is able to enter evolving visionary worlds of extraordinary vividness, worlds where the past and future come together. ■