Season of Migration to the North

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Season of Migration to the North
Season of Migration to the North
Front cover of Penguin Classics edition of the novel
Author Tayeb Salih
Original title موسم الهجرة إلى الشمال
Mawsim al-Hiǧra ilā ash-Shamāl'
Translator Denys Johnson-Davis
Country Sudan
Language Arabic
Publisher Tayeb Salih
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 169 pp (Heinemann edition)
ISBN 0-435-90630-5

Season of Migration to the North (Arabic: موسم الهجرة إلى الشمالMawsim 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.[1] The novel is a counternarrative to Heart of Darkness. It was described by Edward Said as one of the ten great novels in Arabic literature.


The unnamed narrator has returned to his native village in the Sudan after seven years in England furthering his education.

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 he learns that Mustafa was also a precocious student educated in the west but 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. The narrator then discovers that the stranger, Mustafa Sa'eed, awakens in him great curiosity, despair and anger, as Mustafa emerges as his doppelgänger. The stories of Mustafa's past life in England, and the repercussions on the village around him, taking 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 makes the conscious choice to rid himself of Mustafa's lingering presence, and to stand as an influential individual in his own right.

The novel has also been related in many senses to Heart of Darkness by author Joseph Conrad.[2] Both novels explore cultural hybridity, cross-colonial experiences, and orientalism.


The novel was banned in the author's native Sudan for a period of time. This may have had to do with the second half of the novel, which contains some graphic sexual imagery, of which the Islamic government of Sudan may not have approved.[citation needed]


  • Mustafa Sa'eed
  • The Narrator*
  • Jean Morris
  • Sheila Greenwood
  • Ann Hammond
  • Mahjoub
  • 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 commonly mistakenly referred to as "Effendi" – the word Effendi is merely a sign of respect for another. The narrator's actual name is never given throughout the novel.


Editions in print[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson-Davies, Memories In Translation: A Life Between The Lines Of Arabic Literature, p 85
  2. ^ Shaheen, Mohammad. "Tayeb Salih and Conrad." Comparative Literature Studies 22.1 (1985): 156–71. Jstor. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. <>.


External links[edit]

  • Review by Marina Harss at Words Without Borders