Aboulela, Leila 1964–
Aboulela, Leila 1964–
∗ Indicates that a listing has been compiled from secondary sources believed to be reliable, but has not been personally verified for this edition by the author sketched.
PERSONAL: Born 1964, in Cairo, Egypt; married; children: two sons. Education: University of Khartoum, B.A., 1985; London School of Economics, two M.A.s. Religion: Muslim.
AWARDS, HONORS: Caine Prize for African Writing, 2000, for short story "The Museum."
The Translator (novel), Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1999.
Coloured Lights (short stories; includes "The Museum"), Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.
Minaret (novel), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of the radio play The Sea Warrior for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); author of an adaptation of The Translator for the BBC; contributor to Opening Spaces: An Anthology of Contemporary African Women's Writing, edited by Yvonne Vera, Heinemann, 2000.
SIDELIGHTS: Fiction writer Leila Aboulela was born in Cairo, Egypt, the daughter of an Egyptian mother and a Sudanese father. The family soon moved to Khartoum, Sudan, where Aboulela spent her childhood. Until the age of seven, she attended a Catholic school, despite being Muslim, then switched for several years to the Khartoum American School before returning to a Catholic school at the age of eleven. English was an important part of her education at both institutions, and proved useful when she later moved to England to further her studies after graduating from the University of Khartoum in 1985. It was only then, outside the confines of her upbringing, that Aboulela felt free to embrace her religion, which she believes to be a more-vital part of her personality and her writing that her nationality.
In an interview with Anita Sethi for the Observer, Aboulela explained: "I grew up in a very westernised environment and went to a private, American school. But my personality was shy and quiet and I wanted to wear the hijab but didn't have the courage, as I knew my friends would talk me out of it." Aboulela remarked of her life in London: "I didn't know anybody. It was 1989 and the word 'Muslim' wasn't even really used in Britain at the time; you were either black or Asian. So then I felt very free to wear the hijab." That freedom, however, helped to highlight the differences in culture that Aboulela witnessed. In her writing, she concentrates on that sense of separation between Muslims and Christians, as well as the feeling of displacement inherent in moving between very different nations, as she has done frequently for both her education and for work.
Aboulela won critical acclaim and the inaugural Caine Prize for African Writing with her short story "The Museum." The story, which has some autobiographical elements, follows a young Muslim woman named Shadia in her move from Sudan to Aberdeen, Scotland, where she meets a young man and struggles with the radical cultural differences that pummel her from every direction. Aboulela's first novel, The Translator, was also well received by critics. Coloured Lights, her collection of short stories, gathers eleven stories, including "The Museum," and continues to address the state of flux experienced by characters whose lives are caught between eastern and western cultures. Natalie Brierley, in a review for New Statesman, commented that Aboulela's "stories move so briskly that we receive only fleeting glimpses of people's lives, but they are intimate all the same." Writing for New Internationalist, Peter Whittaker stated that "overall, this is an excellent collection which signals the emergence of a strong new fictional talent."
Minaret, Aboulela's second novel, tells the story of Najwa, a wealthy Sudanese girl who finds herself exiled from her country and working as a maid in London. Starr E. Smith, in a review for Library Journal, singled out the book for its "clear and precise writing, sympathetic characters, and positive portrayals of Muslim religious practices." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked of Aboulela that, "aside from some stilted dialogue, she draws Najwa's odyssey of exile, loss and found faith beautifully," while a contributor for Kirkus Reviews concluded that Minaret is "a low-key, affecting account of one bruised young woman's search for wisdom and solace."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African Business, April, 2002, review of Coloured Lights, p. 49.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2005, review of Minaret, p. 697.
Library Journal, July 1, 2005, Starr E. Smith, review of Minaret, p. 63.
Middle East, November, 2001, Fred Rhodes, review of Coloured Lights, p. 45.
New Internationalist, December, 2001, Peter Whittaker, review of Coloured Lights, p. 32; August, 2005, Louise Gray, Peter Whittaker, Malcolm Lewis, and Talia Whyte, review of Minaret, p. 30.
New Statesman, September 11, 2000, Jason Cowley, "Glittering Prize," about the inaugural Caine Prize for African Writing and "The Museum," p. 57; July 30, 2001, Natalie Brierley, review of Coloured Lights, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, July 11, 2005, review of Minaret, p. 56.
World and I, August, 2002, Charles R. Larson, "Halal Novelist: Western and Islamic Civilizations Dialogue in Sudanese Writer Leila Aboulela's Fiction," p. 250.
Observer Online, http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (October 25, 2005), Anita Sethi, "Keep the Faith," interview with Leila Aboulela.