Season of Migration to the North
Front cover of Penguin Classics edition of the novel
|Original title||موسم الهجرة إلى الشمال
Mawsim al-Hiǧra ilā ash-Shamāl'
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|Pages||169 pp (Heinemann edition)|
Season of Migration to the North (Arabic: موسم الهجرة إلى الشمال Mawsim al-Hiǧra ilā ash-Shamāl) is a classic post-colonial Sudanese novel by the novelist Tayeb Salih. Originally published in Arabic in 1966, it has since been translated into more than twenty languages. Salih was fluent in both English and Arabic, but chose to pen this novel in Arabic. The English translation was published in 1969 as part of the influential Heinemann African Writers Series. The novel is a counter narrative to Heart of Darkness. It was described by Edward Said as one of the six great novels in Arabic literature. In 2001 it was selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century.
In January 1899, a compendium, or joint-authority, was established to rule over Sudan by Britain and Egypt. Sudan gained independence in 1956, but was then engulfed in two prolonged civil wars for much of the remainder of the 20th century. This novel is set in the 1960s, a significant and tumultuous time in Sudan's history.
The unnamed narrator has returned to his native village in the Sudan after seven years in England furthering his education. It is the 1960s, and he is eager to make a contribution to the new postcolonial life of his country.
On his arrival home, the Narrator encounters a new villager named Mustafa Sa'eed who exhibits none of the adulation for his achievements that most others do, and he displays an antagonistically aloof nature. Mustafa betrays his past one drunken evening by wistfully reciting poetry in fluent English, leaving the narrator resolute to discover the stranger's identity. The Narrator later asks Mustafa about his past, and Mustafa tells the Narrator much of his story, often saying "I am no Othello, Othello was a lie," as well as "I am a lie."
The Narrator becomes fascinated by Mustafa, and learns that Mustafa was also a precocious student educated in the West but that he held a violent, hateful and complex relationship with his western identity and acquaintances. The story of Mustafa's troubled past in Europe, and in particular his love affairs with British women, form the center of the novel. Mustafa attracts the women by appealing to their Orientalist fantasies. All of the relationships end in tragedy. Three of the women commit suicide and the fourth, Mustafa's wife, is murdered by him. He stands trial for the murder and serves time in an English jail.
In the dramatic present, Mustafa drowns in the Nile, and his widow, Hosna, is pressured to remarry. She refuses, because she does not want to marry after her husband. She tries to appeal to the Narrator, who was appointed the guardian of her sons in Mustafa's will. The Narrator does try to foil the marriage before it can take place, but he spends most of his time in Khartoum and therefore cannot exert much influence on the village. Hosna is married to Wad Rayyes against her will, but when he attempts to consummate the marriage, she kills first him and then herself. Both are buried without a funeral.
The stories of Mustafa's past life in England, and the repercussions on the village around him, take their toll on the narrator, who is driven to the very edge of sanity. In the final chapter, the Narrator is floating in the Nile, precariously between life and death, and resolves to rid himself of Mustafa's lingering presence, and to stand as an influential individual in his own right. In the middle of the Nile, he yells, "Help! Help!" The novel ends upon that cry and it is unclear whether his decision is too late, whether it is the right one, and whether he, others, and the country itself will receive the help needed.
Relation to Other Texts
The novel can be related in many ways to the seminal works of Frantz Fanon, specifically in Black Skin, White Masks. Fanon discusses the politics of desire between black men and white women, as Salih also explores extensively in the relationships of Mustafa Sa'eed.
The novel is also set in the same village, Wad Hamid, as many of Salih's other works, including The Wedding of Zein, Bandarshah, and others. Many of the novel's character, such as Mahjoub and the Narrator, recur in these other works as well. Ami Elad-Boulaski writes that Salih's depiction of Wad Hamid is more fully realized because a reader can track the development of characters throughout multiple novels and short stories.
- Mustafa Sa'eed
- The Narrator*
- Jean Morris
- Sheila Greenwood
- Ann Hammond
- Bint Mahmoud (Hosna)
- Bint Majzoub
- The Narrator's Wife
- The Narrator's Father
- Hajj Ahmed (The Narrator's Grandfather)
- The Narrator's Mother
- Wad Rayyes
- Isabella Seymour
- Mrs. Robinson
- Mr. Robinson
*The Narrator is often mistakenly referred to as "Effendi" – the word Effendi is merely a sign of respect for another. The narrator's actual name is never given in the novel. However, in another one of Salih's Wad Hamid stories, the Narrator's name is revealed to be Meheimid, a diminutive version of Muhammad.
The novel was banned in the author's native Sudan for a period of time, starting in 1989; however, the novel is now readily available in Sudan. This time of being banned is said to be due to the graphic sexual imagery within the novel, of which the Islamic government of Sudan may not have approved.
- Season of Migration to the North, adapted and directed by Ouriel Zohar, starring Mohammed Bakri. Bakri won the award for best actor in the 1993 Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre.
Editions in print
- ISBN 0-435-90630-5 Season of Migration to the North, 1969 Heinemann
- ISBN 0-935576-29-0 Season of Migration to the North (hardcover), 1989 M. Kesend Pub. Ltd.
- ISBN 0-435-90066-8 Season of Migration to the North (paperback), 1970 Heinemann
- ISBN 0-89410-199-4 Season of Migration to the North: A novel (paperback reprint), 1980 Lynne Rienner Publishers
- ISBN 0-14-118720-4 Season of Migration to the North, 2003 Penguin Classics Series
- Johnson-Davies, Memories In Translation: A Life Between The Lines Of Arabic Literature, p 85
- GradeSaver. "Season of Migration to the North Study Guide". www.gradesaver.com. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
- Mahjoub, Jamal (2009-02-19). "Tayeb Salih". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
- "Season of Migration to the North (New York Review Books Classics)". Rifflebooks.com. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
- "Sudan – THE ANGLO-EGYPTIAN CONDOMINIUM, 1899–1955". countrystudies.us. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
- "The World Factbook". www.cia.gov. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
- Harss, Marina. "Season of Migration to the North – Words Without Borders". Words Without Borders. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
- Shaheen, Mohammad. "Tayeb Salih and Conrad." Comparative Literature Studies 22.1 (1985): 156–71. Jstor. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40246524>.
- Elad-Bouskila, Ami (1998). "Shaping the Cast of Characters: The Case of Al-Tayyib Salih". Journal of Arabic Literature. 29.2: 59–84.
- Johnson-Davies, Denys, Memories In Translation: A Life Between The Lines Of Arabic Literature, American Univ in Cairo Press, 2006, ISBN 9774249380.
- The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih