Leila Aboulela: Home, The Nile & Roasted Watermelon Seeds

#TheSudanSeries

Photography (c) Copyright by Tristan Crider

“The English word ‘homesick’ is a good one; we do not have exactly the same word in Arabic. In Arabic my state would have been described as ‘yearning for the homeland’ or the ‘sorrow of alienation’ and there is also truth in this. I was alienated from this place where darkness descended unnaturally at 4pm and people went about their business as if nothing had happened.” –Elsewhere, Home (2018)

“Travel away from home and the difficulties will be a medicine for your ego’s badness, you will return softer and wiser.” –A Sufi saying

In “Moving Away from Accuracy” (2002) published in Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, the acclaimed author Leila Aboulela explores her positionality as a Sudanese-Egyptian-British-Muslim woman writer. Aboulela’s interrogation of the complexities of her identity in the article anticipates some of the common themes that run through her novels. She writes:

In the greyness of culture shock and bad weather, the writing was there, warm and glowing, a new hope, an opportunity, a way of contact with my past. Walking in Aberdeen, stirring words about another place. Why not? Put homesickness into words, make sense of it, make stories of it, show the people around me that an African city, in one of the poorest countries in the world, is as atmos-pheric as London, livelier than Brighton, more beautiful than Edinburgh.

Born in Egypt in 1964 to an Egyptian mother and a Sudanese father, Aboulela grew up in Khartoum and didn't start writing fiction until she had moved to Scotland. You can read more about Aboulela and her writing on her personal website here.

Aboulela has penned two collections of short stories, The Colored Lights (2001) and Elsewhere, Home (2018) and five novels, The Translator (1999), Minaret (2005), Lyrics Alley (2010), The Kindness of Enemies (2015), and her latest work Bird Summons (2019).

Published by Grove Atlantic

Aboulela’s writing transgresses not only national and territorial boundaries but also racial, religious and cultural boundaries. Her characters, from a young Sudanese woman in exile in Britain, a poet in Sudan in the 1950s to the Sufi Muslim leader Imam Shamil in the nineteenth century, are diverse and unique, but they have one important thing in common. They grapple with the feeling of longing for a point of origin– a place they used to call home whose meaning, they realize, is in a constant state of flux.

And Khartoum, that African city, which is as exquisite as London, Edinburgh, and Brighton as Aboulela discusses in her article, is often at the heart of the stories that her characters narrate.

Click for Photo Credit

Although Sudan has been in the limelight recently, it has long been labeled as a nation haunted by violence and conflict: civil wars, international terrorism, and corruption. However, Aboulela emphasizes the importance of countering such stereotypes that construct a monolithic image of Sudan and its peoples. She states that as a writer she wishes:

“…to express, to show that [Sudan] is a valid place, a valid way of life beyond the stereotypical images of famine and war, not a backward place to be written off” (204).

Her collection of short stories Elsewhere, Home (2018) reveals the persistence of the entrenched stereotypes that cast African and Middle Eastern countries, specifically Sudan, and its peoples as ‘backward,’ ‘oppressed,’ and ‘violent.’ Writing from the perspective of the marginalized- Muslim, African, woman, immigrant, and so forth- is crucial for Aboulela because, as she explains in an interview:

“The status quo will always assert that western, white and secular is the norm and that everything else always has to explain itself.”

She defies the status quo by putting her own experiences into words rather than conforming to the demands of the literary marketplace. She states in another interview:

” I write focusing on what I know rather than on the issues that grab the headlines.”

There is no doubt that Aboulela successfully resists the hegemonic discourse in her writing. However, her magic as a writer lies in her ability to deconstruct the long-established clichés about African and Middle Eastern countries and its peoples while exploring the emotional complexities of immigration.

And Elsewhere, Home (2018) attests to her extraordinary success (and her alchemy) as a writer.

Photo Credit: Al Saqi Books

The thirteen stories in Elsewhere, Home (2018) follow disparate characters who straddle two different cultures, two different worlds. “The Museum,” for instance, tells the doomed relationship between Shadia, a wealthy Sudanese international student in Scotland, and Bryan, an intelligent yet provincial Scottish classmate. In “Souvenirs,” Yassir, a Sudanese immigrant in Britain, hunts for paintings in Khartoum for his wife, Emma. “The Ostrich” narrates the story of Samra, a young Sudanese woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage. It is one of the many stories in the collection that challenge the master narrative about immigration from the so called “Third World” to the Global North: that one should be grateful for making it to the West, that one should learn to dismiss the hostile rhetoric/behavior that awaits them, and so forth.

However, Samra wishes to return to Sudan.

Married to a Sudanese doctoral student in London, she has no strong ties to the city that hosts her, and she feels estranged. But Sudan, she is told again and again, is simply not a place one returns to. “There’s no future back there,” (90) her husband tells her repeatedly. Her mother, too, reproaches her:

“You are envied, Samra. You are envied for living abroad where it is so much more comfortable than here. Don’t complain, don’t be ungrateful” (87).

Unlike her husband who is dazzled by ” the good life of the West” (88) and who frequently underlines the ‘backwardness’ of Sudan, Samra is disheartened by the blatant display of racism and disrespect that she encounters:

Majdi points out the graffiti for me, ‘Black bastards’ on the wall of the mosque, ‘Paki go home’ on the newsagent’s door. ‘Do you know what it means, who wrote it?’ I breed a new fear of not knowing, never knowing who these enemies are. How would I recognise them while they can so easily recognise me? (93)

Frustrated by her husband who overlooks the fact that she is suffering from homesickness, she asks:

“What am I doing here? A stranger suddenly appearing on the stage with no part to play, no lines to read” (93).

Samra’s Khartoum is far from perfect. Queueing for bread and gas is the norm. She understands that people leave to survive, and perhaps she should be grateful too. But she longs for Khartoum nonetheless. She longs for the Nile and the scorching heat. She longs for the days when she would spend time with her first love reading the Andalusian poet Ibn Zaydun. She longs for sweet cinnamon tea and roasted watermelon seeds:

“Perhaps this is the essence of my country, what I miss most. Those every day miracles, the poise between normality and chaos. The awe and the breathtaking gratitude for simple things. A place where people say, ‘Allah alone is eternal'” (98).

Elsewhere, Home is filled with such reflective moments that challenge the unitary and ‘alien’ image of Sudan and its peoples. The stories remind us that the headlines about Sudan often omit the beauty that exists alongside the struggles in the country as well as its colonial history that has shaped the country’s contemporary politics. Like Samra, other characters in the collection seek to negotiate their identities and cultural values as immigrants and redefine what it means to be home. Despite extreme poverty, political strife, and social inequalities in Sudan, ‘home’ evokes warm memories of childhood, weddings, the Nile, Ramadan, the call to prayer, and a lot more.

And for a while, that is enough.

Migrant writer Aglaja Veteranyi once wrote that “[her] father says you remember the smell of your country no matter where you are but only recognize it when you’re far away.” Aboulela’s characters, too, learn the meaning of home when they are away. Britain’s chilly winter and the absence of the Nile and minarets, among other signifiers, become a constant reminder of what they have left behind. In other words, home for them comes to represent the safety of their soul. Aboulela discusses the concept of home in “Moving Away from Accuracy”:

Safe and predictable. That was home, loved and taken for granted. The earth was steady and flat under-neath me. Every day the sun rose from the east, set in the west. I lived life lulled and complacent until the carpet was pulled from under my feet; the balance tilted and things were no longer as they used to be.

As a Muslim I have always believed in Judgement Day. In Khartoum I read the description of it in the Qur’an and had goose pimples. This catastrophe was there ahead of me, as inevitable as death. I read and had faith but no sense. No sense of a transformation, the silent earth speaking, the sky splitting into paste, melting away like grease: the mountains reduced to smithereens. It took coming to Scotland to give me some feeling, a slight feel- ing of it. Everything around me so different, nothing looking the same or smelling the same. The end of the world as I had known it. (Travel Is Part of Faith, Wasafiri No.31, Spring 2000)

It is this interlocking of arrival with departure, home with ambivalence, fear with exhilaration that Aboulela masterfully captures in her writing. Her characters come to realize, following Baldwin’s David, that home may not be a place after all, “but simply an irrevocable condition” (92).

Sometimes, they show us, we need to leave home in order to find it.

More on Leila Aboulela: 

"Moving Away from Accuracy." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
No. 22, "The Language of the Self: Autobiographies and Testimonies" / :لغة الذات السير الذاتية والشهادات‎ (2002), pp. 198-207 (10 pages)

Aboulela's profile on Grove Atlantic 

Aboulela's interview with Middle East Eye

Aboulela's interview with The Guardian

Aboulela @ the Edinburgh International Book Festival 



13 Comments

  1. A great review and some excellent background context. I always viewed the beauty of Aboulela’s writing as being not to dissimilar to Ottoman Miniatures; the vivid imagery and her wonderfully nuanced characterisation where the small, imperceptible detail reveal aspect of her characters.However, I feel her style is much more suited to short stories than long ones, as for me one of her focuses in on capturing the innate humanity of people who, as you reference, are frequently underrepresented and sometimes this suffers in the longer stories I have read of hers such as Bird Summons which is a bit too pointed in its attempt to subvert stereotypes, rendering the characters slightly unnatural.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I love your analogy; her writing is indeed like Ottoman Miniatures (Come to think of it, Elif Shafak’s writing, too, is similar to Ottoman Miniatures). I still haven’t finished Bird Summons; it’s been on my list for a long, long time. Have you read The Kindness of Enemies, which is hefty and long, but I think it’s one of Aboulela’s best works (although there are sections that feel like lectures in terms of stereotypes). -Neri

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      1. I haven’t read ‘The Kindness of Enemies’ yet. I think that it is kind of inevitable that, give her preoccupation with exploring the interaction between different and divergent cultures that her literature descended into becoming a discourse. At times it felt like the characters in ‘Bird Summons’ were caricatures and lacked depth, however it is still worth a read. I have Minaret next on my reading list, not sure if you have read it?

        I have always had mixed feelings about Shafak. Whilst I admire the verve and vicacity of her stories, the larger than life characters she created and the frenetic breakneck speed of her plots (kind of like a Turkish Murakami, sans the cat and ear fetish) as well her desire to explore modern Turkish society from a female perspective, I often find her work a little too geared towards the mainstream and lacking in poetry. However, given that I get palpitations whenever I start re-reading ‘In Search of Lost Time’, I think its safe to ignore at least 99% of what I say.

        A novel which I really like which explores Ottoman Miniatures is Pamuk’s ‘My Name is Red’. He really brings out and makes the reader appreciate the symbolism, the ability to render a few different and deceptively simple colours into a kaleidoscope of different shades and capture the almost sacrosanct beauty of the world. Pamuk can be a very uneven writer, but this is one of his best novels.

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      2. Yes, My Name is Read is one of Pamuk’s best works. His writing can be heavy, but not in that one. I just have a soft spot for Shafak; our experiences are so similar so I may be biased. But I actually like that her writing is accessible.

        Ah yes, Minaret is not a bad one. There are some sections that may feel forced, but I think it’s an important work that offers an alternative vision of Islam and diasporic experience. Let me know what you think.

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      3. I agree Shafak is very accessible and, kind of like Aboulela, she explores the multiple different ways in which you can be a Muslim, especially in ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ where she delves into Sufism and how it has been essential in shaping Islam and is still relevant in the modern world. Slightly tangentially, a show I am really into at the moment is ‘Ramy’ which challenges so many cultural stereotypes and allowed me to see the many commonalities behind Ramy’s Egyptian culture and my own Punjabi one, not just from the perspective of our shared cultural traits (arranged marriages and dealing with a straggle or Mrs Bennett like aunties and cousins and an obsession with food) but also the common feeling of displacement felt by people from many diasporas, as they balance acclimatising to a new culture with retaining their own identities.

        Who would you say are the most respected Turkish writers? I love Kemal’s Memed stories, his style is so grandiose and poetic and his descriptions of the Turkish countryside so beautiful. I also enjoyed ‘Every Fire You Tend’ by Sema Kaygusuz. Whilst I did find her style at times bewildering, there was a raw power behind her depiction of the massacre of the Alevi Kurds which stayed with me. I have just realised this discussion is getting far too serious for a Sunday evening…

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      4. Yes, Ramy! I LOVE that show. I’m very much drawn to the idea of Muslimness as explored in Ramy.

        Hmm, the most respected Turkish writers. This is a tough one because “respected” can be contextual. I enjoy Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s writing, especially his novel, The Time Regulation Institute that tackles Turkey’s struggle with the eastern-western binary in a witty, humorous way. But of course, Yasar Kemal is always on the top of the list. Halide Edip Adivar is an important name too: a good storyteller and a woman’s rights advocate.

        By the way, I’m still waiting on Ramy season 2-when is it coming out? Can’t wait!

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  2. I recently finished watching the two episodes which focused on his sister and mother and I feel they were, alongside the one about September the 11th, the strongest ones yet. I especially enjoyed the one about his mother, not only because women of colour of that age group are so underrepresented, but because he successfully combines stereotypes (her desire to feed her passengers food was both hilarious and tragic) with challenging conventions, such as exploring her frustrations over the fact that she solely lived her life for other people (her husband and children) who scarce acknowledged her. Plus which one of us hasn’t contemplated our sense of ridiculousness whilst eating gastronomically unacceptable sandwiches under the contemptuous gaze of a cat. It looks like the second season is due out at the end of May-so something to look forward to in spite of the upcoming apocalypse…

    I have read The Time Regulation Institute, I found it delightfully absurd and surreal and a little difficult to follow at times, I reviewed it here-https://notesfromzembla.wordpress.com//?s=The+Time+Regulation+Institute+&search=Go, as well as Kemal’s fist book here https://notesfromzembla.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/memed-my-hawk-by-yashar-kemal/. Reading either review will act as a useful cure for insomnia, however both one after the other will have the same impact as a strong sedative. I haven’t heard of Adivar, however I cannot see any English translations of her work.

    Who would you say your favourite writers are? P.S I am midway through Minaret, I will let you know how I get on….

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    1. Yes, I loved those episodes (and really every single episode!), but those two in particular do a great job of offering alternative visions of Muslim women. His sister’s story resonated with me while I was so heartbroken to see his mom’s failed efforts to find excitement again. Despite the impending doom, I’m too looking forward to the second season. I think you mentioned in one of your previous comments that there are many overlaps and commonalities between his culture and yours. This universal understanding of Muslimness is the appeal of the show; the whole time I was watching it, I also thought about how Ramy’s struggles are similar to young people’s struggles in Turkey.

      I enjoyed reading your reviews! I’m wondering if you found The Time Regulation Institute hard to follow at times because of the translation. It could be. Based on your review, it sounds like Kemal’s book was translated well. If I’m not mistaken, only one of Adivar’s books have been translated into English (in two volumes): The Clown and his Daughter- Sinekli Bakkal in Turkish.

      Hm, my favorite writers. The list is long, but some would be Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, Lorrie Moore, Laila Lalami, Kamila Shamsie, Rabih Alameddine, and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. I’m trying to think of my favorite Turkish writers, and there are great ones, but I grew up reading Ömer Seyfettin’s short stories so I’d say he is my favorite. I haven’t read his works in such a long time–I should probably re-read his collections. What about you? Your favorites?

      Lastly, yes, Minaret. I included Minaret into the last chapter of my dissertation which was on Islamic feminism (although I take issue with the concept itself) so I’m curious to hear what you think.

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      1. I think that Ramy himself had commented on how people from various diasporas have acknowledged how they can related to a lot of the scenarios which play out in the show, so I think some of it is around the difficulties of cultural assimilation, especially as so much of the world is seen from the lens of whiteness and the sense of otherness this can engender. On a personal level, I suppose I can relate to Ramy as I have never felt I have fitted in anywhere, whether it be my own culture and its norms and values, especially around masculinity and in mainstream Western society, especially as somebody who is due to their appearance is a very visible minority and all of the baggage that can bring. What I like about Ramy, however, is how he challenges his own self-absorption and the fact that lots of people feel as lost as he does, even if, as with his slightly obnoxious Egyptian cousin, superficially they fit in better than other. Having now finished the series, I am really sad that he never got the chance to bond with his grandfather, but I guess he has made up for it by developing an illicit romantic relationship with his female cousin.

        I think you are right that the preference for Kamal may be down to the translation. However think his simple, linear narrative style and poetic descriptions likely lend itself to English better than Tanlvinar’s more abstract and rambling style. So much of a book’s essence is lost in translation, It is kind of like the difference between translating (say) Thomas Hardy and James Joyce into Turkish, so perhaps Adivar’s style is just more difficult to translate?

        I have read ‘Home Fire’ by Shamshie and really enjoyed it; I liked its sense of forcefulness and its exploration of how the feeling of alienation and not belonging is a key driver in extremism. I haven’t read the others (Lalami aside) but now have added them to my seemingly perpetual reading list-my bookshelves are already starting to croak and it at this point I am going to either have to get a new bookshelf or new house. To return the favour, some obscurish writers I enjoy (although it would be presumptive of me to think you haven’t heard of them!) are: Ismat Chugtai, Negar Djavadi, Amin Maalouf, Merce Rodoreda, Sarah Suleri, Shahriar Mandanipour, Bernardine Evaristo, Kiran Desai, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. I think that is enough obscure world literature muscle flexing (for now).

        In terms of general favourites writers, I would say Nabokov for his linguistic brilliance and the strong moral core which runs through his novels, Proust for creating one of the most brilliant works of art ever, Eileen Chang for how delicately beautiful her novels are, Woolf for her originality and how underrated she is (mainly because he is a woman), Toni Morrison for her power to fuse racial enquiry with brilliant literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez more for some of his less well known and short stories, Tolstoy for Anna Karenina and Chekhov for the sheer perfection of his short stories. Other favourites include Endo, Rushdie, Queneau, Calvino, Katharine Mansfield. Not sure if you have ready many of the above?

        I have finished Minaret and thought it was ok. I quite I enjoyed the journey which Najwa goes through, from a privileged and spoilt young woman to one who is able to find sustenance and meaning in faith, but one which is based on kindness and understanding rather than dogmatism. I did find some of the secondary characters a little lacking. What was your perspective on the novel from the angle of Islamic feminism and what would you say are the issues you have with it as a concept?

        P.S I also really enjoy reading your reviews too. We have a shared affinity for cats.

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      2. I know, I was really sad that Ramy couldn’t spend quality time with his grandfather. And I’m curious to see where the romance with his cousin will go? I’m not sure how I feel about that, haha.

        I like this list of writers you have here-I haven’t heard any of the “obscurish” writers except Maalouf and Mandanipour. I’ll too add them to my list. Always looking for new reads. And yes to all your favorites. I’m a fan of Marquez, Woolf, Tolstoy, Morrison, Rushdie, well I guess all the names you mention. Have you read the Satanic Verses? What do you think if you have? I always ask people who read Rushdie because it’s still so controversial.

        You know, I was actually on Goodreads the other day and saw that I gave Minaret only two stars. I wonder what I was thinking at the time, but when I read it for my diss, I focused on the diaspora space that emerges in the novel (a space that is distinctly muslim) like the mosque and the study group that Najwa and all her muslim women friends (of different ethnicities and nationalities) participate in. Using the lens of islamic feminism highlights those moments when the members of the study group have intellectual discussions about the koran, and that Najwa herself challenges the patriarchal readings of islam.

        Islamic feminism is a useful concept in itself, but my concern is with the term “islamic feminism” which paradoxically challenges its own convergence. The term still uses binaries and runs the risk of perpetuating them. Most studies on islamic feminism focus on pious women who are empowered by hijab, burka, and so forth–which is great. But what about non-practicing, agnostic, queer muslim women who are empowered by muslim identity? They aren’t necessarily pious, and they aren’t an integral part of western feminisms, either. So, where do they go? I’m actually prepping for my defense right now so I cannot stop haha, but I’d better lol

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  3. I am not sure where Ramy was going with him not being able to engage with his grandfather after all of that journeying. Perhaps he has one of those “you can only find wisdom yourself, ideally via a socially unacceptable romance with an attractive relative, rather than other people”. But it would have been nice to get his grandfather’s perspective on life as I feel that is one of the narratives the show has been missing so far. I guess it is good for Ramy that he has found somebody who understands him and is from the same culture, however the whole cousin vice is slightly discomforting, although marrying cousins may be more accepted in Egyptian society (it is quite normalised in Pakistani society for example).

    What did you think of Mandanipour? I am not sure if you have read ‘Censoring an Iranian Love Story’ but its one of my favourite books, I love how it plays with the narrative form and constantly breaks the fourth wall. In many ways it reminds me of Iranian New Wave cinema and films such as ‘Close-Up’. Speaking of which, I am not sure whether you are a fan of Iranian cinema? It is one of my favourite countries for producing consistently brilliant films, whilst also juggling limited tech, little budgets and censorship? I have read The Satanic Verses yes. I guess I was able to approach The Satanic Verses from an areligious perspective, as I found the depictions of Mohammed and Gabriel to be interesting but uncontroversial for me as a non-Muslim, however I read the book as being more of a parable on on the difficulties of integration and the residual racism of colonialism, as well as a critique of the superficiality of the Indian entertainment industry. I love Rushdie’s magical realism, which is so different from many other Indian writers who are grounded in the conventional realism of British literature. What did you think of The Satanic Verses as a Muslim? Is it your favourite Rushdie novel?

    Well you are a lot more of an expert than me and can speak from your own lived experiences, however I think you are right in that there is a tendency to reduce Islamic feminism to a binary or project a certain image as to what a “real” or “proper” Muslim woman should be so, for example, somebody who wears a hijab or is outwardly pious. I mean there are a million different ways you can be a Muslim, whether it be a socially conservative stay-at-home mom or, as you reference in your example of non-practicing, agnostic, queer muslim women (that would be a very unique but much needed combination!) it should be about representation. I have the same struggle as a Sikh who although I wear an outward expression of my religion with my turban am often classified as being pious or conservative when I am in reality a borderline agnostic and extremely liberal, however what makes it worse is that these labels exist as much within my own community as they do outside. I guess this ties in with why you are a big fan of Elia Shafak and Ramy as they offer an alternative view of the Muslim experience which is no less valid than that of a somebody who fits more neatly into stereotypes. Have you read ‘Its Not About the Burqa? I would really recommend it as it offers us the perspective of a multitude of different Muslim women.

    Also curious as to know what you think of how Muslim women (and women in colour in general) are generally viewed as requiring saving or rescuing by contemporary white feminism?

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    1. I have no idea–I like your theory though. I suppose we will see soon. I’ve actually just reactivated my Hulu account for Ramy. Patiently waiting.

      I haven’t read any of Mandanipur’s works—I just know that he’s a famous writer/theorist. So, would you recommend Censoring an Iranian Love Story for a beginner? I’m not familiar with Iranian movies, but I LOVED A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Iranian American production if I’m not mistaken, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. I’m not even into vampire movies/books, but that movie was powerful in so many ways.

      And yes, I had a similar reaction to The Satanic Verses. I read it as a postmodern novel about hyphenated identities, immigration, and identity. Yes, I could say that it’s my favorite Rushdie book; it is just so clever and intricate. One of those novels that can be read again and again and every time you read it, you find another layer. Of course, I’ve only read it twice, since it’s quite hefty. I started The Golden House a few weeks ago, but I can’t seem to get into it. I think I’ll put in back on the shelf for a while.

      Thanks for sharing your experience—I’m sure some of the challenges are similar. It’s quite interesting how representation plays out. As someone who identifies as Muslim and, like you a “borderline agnostic” (I love this term!), my Muslimness is often canceled out both in the eyes of western media and traditionalists because I don’t wear the headscarf. But queer muslimness is slowly becoming visible and I’m quite excited about it. The editors of the poetry collection Halal If You Hear Me identify as queer, and the collection features queer Muslim poets. Academy too is *albeit slowly* catching up as there are more and more social scientific studies on queer muslimness. On that note, I find the idea that muslim women, or woc, need saving disturbing. I guess that’s where the concept of Islamic feminism helps a bit, since it disrupts the hegemonic narrative. I particularly cannot stand “savior” fiction about Muslims, especially muslim women, written by neoorientalist writers. Problematic on so many levels.

      I wanted to respond earlier, but I’ve been feeling kind of out of it recently–hope you’re doing better!

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      1. I am hoping that Ramy does end up airing in May now (I promise I did not make that date up!) and that you haven’t renewed for no reason…that being said I guess you can use it to watch classics like ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot’ and ‘Conan the Barbarian’…

        That is funny in regards to Mandanipour as I was only aware of him as a novelist and was unaware of him as a critic or theorist. He has two important (and purely from a self-centred perspectives I mean translated) works, which are ‘Censoring an Iranian Love Story’ and ‘Moon Brow’. I found Moon Brow effervescent, poetic dreamlike and uniquely beautiful, but heavy going, whereas ‘Censoring an Iranian Love Story’ was far more accessible and (spoiler alert!) deals with two characters who fall in love the only way one can…by exchanging covert letters via library books. I too loved ‘A Girl Walks Home At Night”, especially how it subverted gender tropes with a burqa clad woman acting as the vampire and devouring men, the vulnerability of the male lead and the surreal atmosphere it creates with its wonderful black and white cinematography. In terms of other Iranian cinema, I would recommend ‘The Colour of Paradise’ (so sad it made me cry), ‘Offside” (so funny I was laughing continuously) and ‘Close-Up’. Slightly tangentially I am not sure if you have heard of Reha Erdem, but I loved his film ‘My Only Sunshine’ which was such a powerful exploration of urban isolation in Istanbul. I also enjoyed a couple of Ceylan’s films which I have watched, although you have to be in the right mood (and perhaps enjoy is the wrong word?) to watch them and resist the urge to turn on ‘Mean Girls’ or a similar early Lindsay Lohan film instead. Do you have any favourite films?

        My other favourite Rushdie books are ‘Midnight’s Children’ and ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’, however I am not sure if you have read either of them? I think after a while writers tend to descend into self-parody and mental masturbation and I feel Rushdie reached that tipping point long ago; I would much rather more writers followed the Flaubert model of writing a book every six years because it takes you three weeks to assign the correct hue of orange to the fireplace.

        I think its great that Muslim and other minority cultures are making such huge strides in challenging stereotypes and diversifying minority voices, especially around heteronormativity There can be a tendency for immigrants, especially second generation immigrants, to double down on stereotypes of their culture in order to belong and as somebody who has never fitted in anywhere, I can sometimes get how comforting it can feel to belong, however it is also so frustrating and limiting to see yourself and your wider culture being represented via such a narrow lens.

        Don’t worry about not responding sooner, I think responding to random blog exchanges with strange men from half-way across the world about Salman Rushdie and Iranian vampire cinema would be at the bottom of your priority. I am hoping you are feeling better and it isn’t COVID (or, if it is, you have recovered?) Whilst I have not been ill, I am now fast running out of books to read (and I am currently ploughing through about five a week!) and Steven Seagal B-Movies to watch. How are you getting on with Lolita, which I think you are reading based on your status below.

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