Wednesday, March 11, 2009

REVIEW: The Translator, by Leila Aboulela

The Translator, by Leila Aboulela. Published 2006 by Grove Press.

Click here to find The Translator at your favorite indie bookstore.

The Translator is a short book that can take a long time to read- but I mean that in a good way. It's a love story. Sammar is a Sudanese Muslim widow living in Scotland, working as a translator for a secular Scottish academic named Rae. Their relationship, convincing and sweet, develops slowly, but Sammar struggles because as a religious Muslim she can't marry a non-Muslim, and she won't have a relationship with him outside of marriage, so either Rae must convert or they must part.

The novel, told entirely from Sammar's point of view, covers a lot of ground. We learn about her marriage, her child, her extended family. We also learn a good deal about Muslim religious practice through Sammar's daily life and thoughts. Sammar is foreign in Britain and misunderstood in Sudan; author Aboulela draws a convincing, touching portrait of immigrant life and its complications. Supporting characters lend depth and alternate points of view. After a falling-out with Rae, Sammar returns to Sudan for a time, to reconnect with her family and to see if Rae will join her; this section of the novel is particularly emotional and poignant.

The Translator is beautifully written in a slow, literary style- it's definitely character-driven and not heavy at all on plot or action. But a few things happen nonetheless. But what? Does Rae convert? Do they get back together? I won't tell. You'll have to read this little gem of a novel to find out. For me, The Translator was a very satisfying, very enjoyable read.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.