Wednesday, March 11, 2009

REVIEW: The Translator, by Leila Aboulela

The Translator, by Leila Aboulela. Published 2006 by Grove Atlantic. Literary Fiction.

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.


bermudaonion said...

That sounds marvelous. You do seem to find some gems.

Anonymous said...

This is one I've been wanting to read since it first came out.

Zibilee said...

This book is one I have been excited about since I first heard about it. I'm a sucker for character driven novels written in the perspective of foreigners or immigrants. Glad that you liked this one. I am going to give it a try too.

moazzam sheikh said...

your review does whet my appetite. but at one point you say the novel is written from Sammar's point of view and then later you say, "Supporting characters lend depth and alternate points of view" seem . . . may be i should just read. thanks.

Marie Cloutier said...

Moazzam, what I meant was that, despite the fact that it's all from her POV it's still in the 3rd person and there are other characters whose opinions are heard but whose thoughts we are not privvy to. Does that make any sense? I'd love to know what you think of the book.

Anna said...

You're always adding to the list of books I hope to read some day. :)

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