In truth, Khartoum has never been much to write home about. It has none of the history, architecture or charm of Cairo, Cape Town or Dakar, to name just a few cities in Africa, let alone anywhere else, to compensate for its drabness, poverty and parochialism. Given its majestic location, at the confluence of the White and Blue Niles, Khartoum really should have done better, especially when it was the capital of the largest country in Africa, a status it held until South Sudan broke off in 2011.
Any author is going to struggle writing a book about the place, and so it is with Jamal Mahjoub, a novelist of mixed Sudanese and British parentage. A Line in the River is part memoir, part meditation on history and nationality, and part evocation of Sudan’s turbulent history. But