Tayeb Salih / Laila Lalami


When I was in college, a friend of mine pressed with great urgency a copy of a slim little novel into my hands, as if he were aware it would satiate a hunger I didn’t know I had. That book was Season of Migration to the North, by the Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih, who passed away in London on Feb. 18 at 80. I had been writing for some time by then, but Salih’s perceptive assessment of the relationship between East and West, his complex weaving of personal and political lives, and the beauty of his prose redefined fiction for me.

Season of Migration to the North is about one man’s journey from Sudan to England and his return seven years later to find that everything and everyone, including him, has changed. To make matters worse, someone else in his village has undertaken the same voyage before him–with tragic consequences. Salih’s other novels include The Wedding of Zein and the Bandarshah stories, although none of them inspired the kind of devotion that Season evokes in its readers. Like my college friend, I have over the years recommended the novel to dozens of people, who in turn have done the same.

Long before the era of globalization, before the supposed clash of civilizations, Salih came to represent what is best about cross-cultural encounters. Born and raised in a small village on the bank of the Nile, he was educated at universities in London and Khartoum. For most of his life, he worked for cultural organizations in the Middle East and Europe. He wrote in his native Arabic and found great success in English translation. Salih was a treasure. His death is a loss not just for his readers but for everything that binds us together.

From Time Magazine