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January 23, 2023

The Translator: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

The Translator, by Leila Aboulela.

'It's a lonely thing,' he said, 'you can't avoid it.'
'What?'
'The spiritual path. Everyone is on his own in this.'
-From The Translator, page 202-

Sammar, a Sudanese widow who has left her child in the care of her aunt and moved to Scotland to become an Arabic translator, narrates this poetic novel of love and faith.

I have read some critical reviews of this book which condemn it as "only a love story." The Translator is, in fact, a love story -- but it is also much more. Aboulela is a controlled, meditative writer who weaves a deeper meaning into her novel. The gapping maw between cultures and religions are exposed in this simple story with a subtleness I appreciated. The author explores grief, and moving on, and clinging to one's faith -- all anchored in an exquisite atmosphere of place.

Aboulela has a finely tuned sense of what it means to love. In one scene, Sammar is cooking soup for Rae, a man who Sammar loves and who has been ill. In this uncomplicated act, Aboulela reveals something about Sammar's character which anyone who has loved another can relate to.

She made soup for him. She cut up courgettes, celery and onion. Her feelings were in the soup. The froth that rose to the surface of the water when she boiled the chicken, the softened, shapeless tomatoes. Pasta shaped into the smallest stars. Spice that she had to search for, the name unknown in English, not in any of the Arabic-English dictionaries that she had. -From The Translator, page 97-

The Translator transports the reader to another culture, offering glimpses into what it means to have faith and how difficult it is to abide by one's beliefs. It is not a complicated novel; but it left me contemplating the larger issues of life.

Recommended.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews and her quilting finesse in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".

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Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-10-13
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