Leila Aboulela has published two books in England
that have been highly praised. Her work has been long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Orange Prize, and she was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. Her American debut is a provocative, timely, and engaging novel about a young Muslim womanonce privileged and secular in her native land and now impoverished in London
gradually embracing her orthodox faith. With her Muslim hijab and down-turned gaze, Najwa is invisible to most eyes, especially to the rich families whose houses she cleans in London
. Twenty years ago, Najwa, then at university in Khartoum
, would never have imagined that one day she would be a maid. An upper-class Westernized Sudanese, her dreams were to marry well and raise a family. But a coup forces the young woman and her family into political exile in London
. Soon orphaned, and with her twin brother sent to jail on a drug charge, she finds solace and companionship within the Muslim community. Then Najwa meets Tamer, the intense, lonely younger brother of her employer. They find a common bond in faith and slowly, silently, begin to fall in love.
Written with directness and force, Minaret is a lyric and insightful novel about Islam and an alluring glimpse into a culture Westerners are only just beginning to understand.
Leila Aboulela on autobiographical elements in Minaret:
In both my parents’ lives, modernity and tradition existed side by sidein my father’s case his liberal education and his loyalty to his family, in my mother’s case her devotion to Islam and her career in the UN. This interplay between modernity and tradition would also become my own challenge and a feature of my life and writing. In my case it is my desire to live in Britain
and become part of the UK
literary scene while at the same time practicing my faith and reflecting it in my writing. My parents’ successful lives have given me a confidence and an optimism that, although it is neither easy nor comfortable, modernity and tradition can coexist.