Leila Aboulela’s second novel is about disillusionment and salvation. It charts the inner journey of a soul, and draws poignantly on teachings from the Koran. It is highly informative (particularly about the lives of contemporary female Muslims) and therefore timely, but perplexing.
Its narrator is Najwa, a Sudanese woman caught between two worlds. The snobbish, privileged teenage daughter of a corrupt businessman in Khartoum, who spends her time larking around in short skirts at 1980s pool parties and making a vague attempt at higher education, she finds herself, by 2003, dressed in full hijab as a maid to an Egyptian woman in St John’s Wood.
Structurally the novel is presented as a mystery: how has Najwa come to abandon a skittish life of self-indulgence to become so devout? It ought to be compelling, but it feels flat-footed. In sections alternating past and present, Islam is revealed as the source of comfort and clarity for a