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Bird Summons , Leila Aboulela.

September 22, 2019

Bird Sumons?Bird Summons , Leila Aboulela.  Grove Press, 2020.


3 stars

A novel about Muslim women from the Middle East living in Scotland and fantasizing about alternative lives.

Leila Aboula is a well-regraded Islamic novelist, raised in Khartoum in the Sudan.  In her twenties she moved to Aberdeen, Scotland.   Her books have focused on Muslim women, living in Europe and on how they manage their commitments to their Islamic values and their European lives.  She has written five novels, gradually experimenting with increased complexity.  I have read and enjoyed all of books and appreciate her detailed writing style and ability to deal with characters’ ambiguity. For me, Aboula’s early novels were significant.  As I began to learn about women and Islam, she showed how and why that faith is important to women as well as men.  I do not find her newest book as good as her earlier ones.

Bird Summons is, in part, a fantasy, set at a magical lake in Scotland where three Scottish Muslim women come together on a “holiday” and a pilgrimage to the grave of a Scottish Lady who had converted to Islam.  The women are different ages and circumstances and from different countries.  In their lakeside cabin, each meets an imaginary creature and is led into dangerous adventures which changes them.  Each comes to see herself and her circumstances in a new light.  Although the women also interact with each other, little unites them.

The premise of the book is interesting, and I tend to like the inclusion of fantasy in novels.  The fluidity of the novel and the shifting time frames, however, weakened any sense of narrative.   Readers are shown the dilemmas of Middle Eastern women in Europe, but Aboula does not display her strengths as a writer as well as in her earlier, simpler books.

I recommend Aboula’s previous books to readers who care about Islam women in Europe.

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