Tayeb Salih Duo

“…and if we are lies we shall be lies of our own making.”

“Mark these words of mine, my son. Has not the country become independent? Have we not become free men in our own country? Be sure, though, that they will direct our affairs from afar. This is because they have left behind them people who think as they do.”

– – –

Could dictatorships in developing countries be a side-effect of colonialism?

The effects of colonialism do not end after a nation’s independence, the same way the effects of a dictatorship do not end after a people’s revolution.

Colonialism has defenders who maintain that they served whom they oppressed, dictatorships have the same apologists; but do not both warrant that succeeding leaders would grapple with a democratic exercise of authority — among many other ills they leave in their wake?

Perhaps I am late to these reflections, but there are many people still who do not understand that colonialism and dictatorships have a profound impact on political structures that one simply cannot move on from.

– – –

Season of Migration to the North was the catalyst for these thoughts; a dark and rather absurdist but lyrical depiction of the post-colonial struggle; not an angry tirade but one that challenges opposing views.

It overshadows The Wedding of Zein in many ways, tempting me to say that if there’s one Salih work you must read it should be Season of Migration to the North. On the other hand, The Wedding of Zein comes with two of his finest short stories: One of them is The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid that wistfully contemplates on the clash of social modernity and traditions.

“There will not be the least necessity for cutting down the doum tree… What all these people have overlooked is that there’s plenty of room for all these things.”

So, perhaps it’s wise to read these books together.

Sudan, the largest country in Africa that shares a border with nine other countries including Egypt. And yet we read so little of/from them. It’s time we do. We (I speak as a Filipina reader) share so much more in common than we think.

Naguib Mahfouz: The Day the Leader Was Killed

When Naguib Mahfouz wrote this, he had not been awarded the Nobel yet, but his Adrift on the Nile had already been banned during the term of Anwar Sadat — the leader to whom the title refers. The story is set during Sadat’s Infitah, the policy that would incense Arabs to oppose him and one that would lead to his assassination.

Mahfouz had not known then that after Sadat there would be worse intellectual persecutors, and the future would find him stabbed in the neck in an attack that would tragically impair his writing hand.

Eleven years before the incident, this was published. One should not expect grandeur from this, or a sweeping account of Egypt’s history and politics. Here, Mahfouz intimates to us the lives of three common people, “redundant people,” as one narrator would describe.

The three narrators are Muhtashimi Zayed, the grandfather; Elwan, the grandson; and Randa, Elwan’s fiancée: Characters whose daily lives are affected by the Infitah.

The juxtaposition of their lives and the trajectory of their sentiments with the day the leader is killed is an intelligent tool. Because with momentous events such as the assassination, we think little of these lives, their loves, their troubles. The strength of this book is in the intimacy that Mahfouz beckons us to experience. I like how the title cleverly deceives us like a headline by a Western news network of news in the Middle East: We are tricked into thinking that we already know what the story is about, when in fact, we don’t.