"There are all kinds of pain, degrees of falling. In our first weeks in London we sensed the ground tremble beneath us. When Baba was found guilty we broke down, the flat filling with people, Mama crying, Omar banging the door, staying out all night. When Baba was hanged, the earth we were standing on split open and we tumbled down and that tumbling had no end, it seemed to have no end, as if we would fall and fall for eternity without ever landing. As if this was our punishment..."
When this novel begins, Najwa is a university student in Khartoum. She is the privileged daughter of a well-connected and well-off family. She does not get up at dawn to pray, or attend the mosque, or wear a hijab; she is completely westernized. But then there is a coup in Sudan, and Najwa is forced to flee with her mother and twin brother to London where her life changes forever.
This is a novel of journeys: from Khartoum to London, past to present, rich to poor. But the most important journey of all is Najwa's own inward spiritual journey, a journey towards Allah. In Islam, she finds the answers she's been seeking and the peace that was missing from her previous life. It's not a viewpoint that is usually taken when it comes to women and Islam, but it's that journey into Islam as viewed from Najwa's perspective that makes this novel so interesting.
Najwa's life is not easy. I kept hoping for more and better things for her. But maybe that's just my love of happily-ever-after fairy tale endings. I did like this book, however. Najwa's Sudanese upbringing and culture is so different from mine; I enjoyed those aspects of this book most of all. And I loved the way Aboulela writes. This is a quiet, thoughtful novel that's worth checking out.