Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela’s third novel, is set in 1950s Sudan as independence from Britain and Egypt approaches. It is the graceful and elegantly told saga of the powerful and affluent Abuzeid family, merchants of Umdurman, the commercial capital of Sudan which sits across the River Nile from Khartoum. The book explores tensions and contradictions within Islam and Sudan still relevant today, in particular those which affect women. Indeed, life for Sudan’s educated middle classes in the 1950s, based on this reading, seems to have been altogether more full of possibilities than it is now, after two decades of civil war and the spread of a more restrictive Islam.
As the drums of independence sound distantly, Lyrics Alley opens to the gentler domestic rhythms of the extended Abuzeid clan celebrating the recovery from illness of Mahmoud Abuzeid, its kindly, generous and forward-looking paterfamilias. While ill, he has been nursed by Waheeba, his Sudanese first wife, who still