Book review: "The Kindness of Enemies" by Leila Aboulela
Crises of identity and loyalty from Scotland to the Caucasus
In her engrossing fourth novel, "The Kindness of Enemies", the Sudanese-British writer Leila Aboulela tackles themes of identity, jihad and Sufism. She does so through two parallel narratives, one set in contemporary Scotland and Sudan, the other in nineteenth-century Imperial Russia and the Caucasus.
By Susannah Tarbush
Leila Aboulela's novel "The Kindness of Enemies", which is published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, could hardly be more topical. Its characters include a Muslim university student, Oz, who is arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. His name is an abbreviation of Osama, perhaps not the most fortunate name to have in the post-9/11 era.
The arrest has serious implications for his university lecturer Natasha Wilson. In line with UK anti-terror laws, she was supposed to monitor Oz and his fellow students for signs of "vulnerability to radicalisation".
The nineteenth-century narrative revolves around the compelling historical figure of the Sufi Imam Shamil, who led tribes in the Caucasus against Russian expansionism. The novel shows him regularly consulting his revered Sufi teacher, the gentle scholar Sheikh Jamal al-Din.
In 1839, the Russians exact a terrible price from Shamil during negotiations to end the bloody siege of his Akhulgo mountain rock fortress. They demand that he hand them his eight-year-old eldest son, Jamaleldin, as a temporary hostage.
Shamil reluctantly agrees to this demand. But after negotiations break down, the Russians fail to return Jamaleldin. They whisk him off to the imperial capital, St Petersburg, where he is brought up as a Russian officer and gentleman. Tsar Nicholas I tells him: "You will rule Dagestan and Chechnya on my behalf. No one will be able to win the tribes' loyalty and trust more than Shamil's son ...You will be my mouthpiece in the Caucasus."
review continues at Qantara.de...