Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Khalifa El-Taaishi

Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Saleh (August 10, 2006)

Tayyeb Salih is a Sudanese writer and his book was translated into English by Denys Johnson-Davis.

It is a small novel but powerful, intense, and gripping.  The narrator is a fresh graduate from Britain, earned a PhD in English literature, and returned home after 7 years of absence.  I shall refer to him as the educated man.

The author meets the hero of this story Mustafa Said who has settled his village during his leave.  Mustafa is a Sudanese genius whose brain is like a knife for assimilating all kind of topics and sciences, whose memory is like a sponge in retaining whatever he read, but whose emotions and feelings are as cold as ice.  He grew up to be a robust and very handsome man, his face had Arabic features but his hair was African.

Mustafa lost his father, a rich camel merchant, when a toddler and his stern-faced mother left him to live an independent life, barely emotionally caring for him.  When Mustafa left his mother in order to join an English Middle School in Cairo on a grant she did not raise any fuss and simply told him: “Had your father lived he would have liked your decision. This is your life and you are free to do with it as you wish”.

No tears and no kisses accompanied the farewell.  When Mustafa landed in Cairo, he was taken over by the English Robinsons who were childless.  Mrs. Robinson used to tell him: “Mr. Saeed, you’re a person devoid of a sense of fun. Can’t you forget your intellect?

Mustafa’s mother seemed to have on her face like a thick mask, as though her face was the surface of the sea in order to hide her emotions.  Although the novel never mentioned how Mustafa’s father died, I am under the impression from Mustafa’s sexual drives and cold feelings that his mother, a slave by origin, might have killed his father out of jealousy in a neat fashion that removed any suspicions, and then wrapped herself up within a cocoon of cold sensitivities and distanced herself from any social life.

It might be conjectured that she eliminated him because he and his tribe helped free the English Governor Slatin Pasha escape when he was the prisoner of the Khalifa El-Taaishi.

Mustafa left to London around 1910 and turned to be the jock of all trades in accumulating knowledge from economics, to poetry, to engineering, to drawing, and anything that he set his mind into.

He spent his life in London teaching at universities and wooing the English young girls and married women, pursuing them and offering them expensive gifts until they were reduced to slaves, completely in love with his beautiful dark complexion and mesmerized by his innumerable lies about the life in Sudan, Africa and the desert.

Jean Morris set her eyes on him and drove him mad with love and hatred for three years before she asked him to marry her.  When he pursued her she would avoid him and when Mustafa avoided her she would track him down and rekindle his desires.  Jean managed to drive Mustafa’s girlfriends to commit suicide because they believed that they could not compete with Jean for Mustafa’s strong emotions toward her.

One night, during the period when Mustafa avoided her for two weeks, Jean barged into his apartment, heaped filthy curses upon Anna, Mustafa’s girl friend, and drove her out crying.  Jean took off all her clothes and stood naked by the door.  Mustafa approached her and she commanded him saying: “Give me this expensive Wedgwood vase and you can have me“.  She took the priceless vase and smashed it on the ground.  Then, she asked for his rare Arab manuscript and shredded it to pieces.

Jean pointed to his silken Isphahan prayer-rug.  The rug was a gift from his adoptive mother Mrs. Robinson when he was in Cairo and it was the most valuable thing he owned.  And Jean proceeded to throw the rug in the fire-place.  As Mustafa wrapped his arms around her waist Jean jabbed him between his thighs by her knees and left.

After 3 years of chasing each other Jean told him: “I am tired of your pursuing me and of my running before you. Marry me.”  The got married and she would not let him approach her in bed.  She tried hard to raise his suspicions about her extra marital affairs and flirt shamelessly with every Tom in town but I believe that she didn’t care much about sex, at least not with men.  They went through periods of murderous emotional wars for every time he would hit her she would respond by slapping him back and digging her nails into his face.

On a February dark evening, the temperature 10 degrees below zero, when pipes were frozen and the whole city was a field of ice, Mustafa walked from the station to his house carrying his overcoat over his arm, his blood boiling and transpiring profusely.  He found Jean stark naked on the bed, her thighs wide ajar, waiting for him.

His glances over each part of her body overwhelmed her.  Mustafa raised his dagger and she kissed the blade.  He put the blade-edge between her breast and she twined her legs round his back.  He slowly pressed the dagger deeper and deeper in her flesh while she was saying: “Darling, I thought you would never do this.  I almost gave up hope of you.  Come with me. Don’t let me go alone. I love you, my darling.”  He believed her while she was dying.

Mustafa was sentenced to 7 years prison term.  When he was released before the breaking of the Second World War, he wandered about all Europe before returning to Sudan and settling down in remote village by the Nile.  He married Hosna, a local girl, bigot two sons, farmed his land, raised cattle, and shared responsibilities in the communal projects and committees.

One year, the Nile had a strong flood, the like of it happens once every 20 years, and many in the village died.  Mustafa was considered dead too because his body was not found.  Mustafa is a fine swimmer and I believe that the call of the season of migration to the European north was more powerful than settling down.

A couple of weeks before the flood, he left a sealed envelop to his wife to be delivered to an acquaintance of his in the village, a young PhD graduate in English literature from London.  The letter asked the educated man to be the guardian of his family and to care for it.  A rich old man from the village of seventy who was madly in love with her and who was much married and much divorced asked the narrator to convince Hosna to marry him.

Hosna refused to remarry and told the educated man, who was married and from a tribe that don’t take more than one wife, that she would kill her husband and then kill herself if one is forced upon her.

While the educated man was back in Khartoum, as a civil servant in the education ministry, Hosna was forced by her father to marry the old man.  Hosna had asked the father of the educated man to ask his son to marry her, just because she wanted to live as an independent woman and would not be of any trouble as his second wife.

The father of the narrator resented that woman who took the liberty to taking her affairs in her own hands and denied her request.  The educated man received an urgent cable.  When he arrived Hosna had killed her husband and then killed herself after the old man tried to rape her and had bitten off one of her nipples.

Many of Mustafa’s classmates and the younger generation who lived in Britain recollected that he was an outstanding person, who was the first Sudanese to marry an English woman, to get the British citizenship, to teach at English universities and be given the nickname of “The black English”.

A few of them went as far as affirming that he was an English secret agent, the darling of the English left movement during the pre-war period, and that he belonged to the Fabian school of economics which did not rely on statistics and facts but on general principles of justice, equality, and socialism.

The narrator used the key given to him by Mustafa to open the iron door of the special room of Mustafa that nobody entered or could enter.  It was a modern spacious room with a queen size bed, an up-to-date bathroom, paintings and large mirrors over the walls; just a carbon copy of the design of Mustafa’s apartment in London.  Shelves of thousands of English books from all kind of literature and science were filling the room from floor to ceiling.  Mustafa was in the process of writing several books and did draw the figures of many of the village people.

The novel broached on the effects of colonialism on the Sudan. The British opened roads and rivers to ship armies and weapons first, then they enticed some young Sudanese children to learn the English language, basic reading and writing skills and arithmetic in order to fill minor clerical posts in the government.

They in fact showed favor to nonentities to occupy the highest positions in the colonial period.  When Mahmoud Wad Ahmed, a Sudanese patriotic leader was defeated and brought in shackles to the British High Governor of colonial Sudan, the British General Kitchener said to Muhammad: “Why have you come to my country to lay waste and plunder?”

A dialogue between the educated Sudanese Mansour and Richard the English teacher might be a typical example that is related to the colonial effects on the developing countries:

Mansour: “You transmitted to us the disease of your capitalist economy.  What did you give us in exchange but a handful of capitalist companies that drew our blood and still do?

Richard: “All this is to show that you cannot manage to live without us.  You used to complain about colonialism and when we left, you then create the legend of neo-colonialism. It seems that our presence, in an open or undercover form, is as indispensable to you as air and water.




June 2023

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