Leila Aboulela is an award-winning novelist and playwright. Elsewhere, Home is a highly acclaimed short story collection that explores notions of migration, belonging and ‘home’.
From one of our finest contemporary writers whose work has been praised by J.M. Coetzee, Ali Smith and Aminatta Forna, Leila Aboulela’s Elsewhere, Home offers us a rich tableau of life as an immigrant abroad.
A young woman’s encounter with a former classmate elicits painful reminders of her former life in Khartoum. A wealthy Sudanese student in Aberdeen begins an unlikely friendship with a Scottish man. A woman experiences an evolving relationship to her favourite writer, whose portrait of their shared culture both reflects and conflicts with her own sense of identity.
Shuttling between the dusty, sun-baked streets of Khartoum and the university halls and cramped apartments of Aberdeen and London, Elsewhere, Home explores, with subtlety and restraint, the profound feelings of yearning, loss and alienation that come with leaving one’s homeland in pursuit of a different life.
The red thread that weaves itself through the stories is the notion of ‘home’ and what it means to the characters. Leila Aboulela explores these vast and complex concepts of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ through her characters’ stories, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.
One of my favourite stories is ‘Something Old, Something New’. It depicts, with sharp yet forgiving eyes, the difficulties faced by a mixed couple’s journey through life and cultural complexities. Aboulela wonderfully portrays Khartoum and its people, the hurdles culture and traditions can pose to young love, hurdles that even religion cannot seem to bridge. This story felt deeply personal yet poignantly universal. It alluded to historical context and baggage as much as it alluded to universal and human traits we all share regardless of our origins.
There was not one story I did not love and appreciate, if for nothing else, for the poetic yet direct prose. Aboulela’s writing is delicious, like a complex yet homely dish made by a trusted relative who swears that making it is simple, while you know that only certain people, with special affinities, could ever make a dish this elaborate.
Special thanks to Saqi Books for sending a copy to us for review.