« Dear Sir. Respected Sir. Respected Hajj. Dear Uncle. Dear Tayeb Salih.
There’s no point in asking a loved one, “Why do I love you?” The person is likely to feel uncomfortable, even attacked, as if the question conceals a criticism. Books, however, invite this question. You open them, reopen them, analyze every line. Literature is the great field of the exploration of love. I’m finding out that you can spend your whole life doing this, even with a single book, such as the novel « Season of Migration to the North », and that unlike with a loved one, these incessant questions won’t translate to “I don’t love you,” but “I do, I do.”
I call this a bitter, endless love. I call this fearful affinity. The way, in your novel, the characters look for themselves in the eyes of others and find themselves and are appalled. Mustafa Saeed sees himself reflected in the eyes of foreign women as a savage, an ape, a god, and he laughs and kills. The unnamed narrator sees himself reflected in Mustafa, for, in his passivity as a privileged male, he too is a killer of women. And I — I see myself everywhere, in your intense reading of Shakespeare, Conrad, and Freud, your desire to meld these voices with the poetry of Abu Nuwas, to blend them with nomads’ songs and the open sesame of a folktale, not seamlessly but choppily, as if in a welter of blood. I see myself in your fragments, the broken sentences and the echoes, the repetitions, your narrator struggling, drowning halfway between north and south, impossible to resolve these contradictions, to live this way, amidst these conflicting demands, these currents drawing away and pulling home, the longing to return and the wanderlust you call a germ, an infection, a seasonal debility the narrator cannot bear, and the reverberations grow into a piercingly loud roar and a vivid brightness in which everything is obliterated. »
Extracts from « Dear Tayeb Salih », by Sofia Samatar, in ArabLit Quarterly – open letter by a literature professor of Somali descent to the late author of « Season of Migration to the North », one of the major contemporary Arab novels.
This is one of the numerous amazing articles, poems and excerpts published in the first issue of this new magazine devoted to Arab literature in translation.