My friend K, who is specializing in short fiction in her doctoral work, suggested Season of Migration to the North as something I might be interested in rotating for my global literature courses. I don’t always find novellas satisfying, but sometimes they are handy when you try to fit in a lot of literature for your courses. Plus, in broadening my literary horizons beyond the Western canon, I am interested in the way writers have been translated into English and confront exotic “Othered” myths about their respective cultural, ethnic, or national identities.
Tayeb Salih packs a lot of story in his novella. The overarching plot is that of the narrator returning home from his studies in Britain. When returning, he encounters the mysterious and enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa slowly reveals his origin story, including a series of romantic entanglements with European women that end badly. And then, when Mustafa disappears, the narrator must decide how to take care of Mustafa’s wife and sons. But his interference may prove to have dangerous consequences.
While this novella is not the easiest to read, it’s interesting to see how Salih reconstructs myths of the Othered figure and then confronts and satirizes them. He makes use of Mustafa’s sexual relationships to highlight the West’s view of formerly colonized lands, and the ways in which exploitation of the “exotic” is actually demeaning and harmful. The novella is very imagistic, and the storyline hard to follow at times. However, it was a fascinating read, and I am glad that I experienced this novella. It’s definitely more an experience than a narrative.