Leila Aboulela’s book, Lyrics Alley, is set in 1950s Sudan and follows the lives of the wealthy Abuzaid family as their country prepares for political independence from Britain and Egypt. The Abuzaid family is caught right in the middle of the drama since their business empire has benefited greatly through their British and Egyptian connections. Love, loss, tragedy and injustice all creep into the storyline making this an arresting family saga. And, in the background, the political changes sweeping the country are ever present. Will Sudan embrace all that modern technology can offer them or cling to the mores and culture of their Arabic heritage?
I may have given this book 4 stars if I had not read that some reviewers were prematurely comparing the author to the highly esteemed Egyptian novelist and Nobel Laureate for Literature, Naguib Mahfouz, and his monumental work, The Cairo Trilogy. Mahfouz’s trilogy shows a greater maturity and a much deeper scope and breadth than Aboulela’s story, perhaps because it was written over many years of a long and celebrated writing life while Aboulela is still in the midst of creating a very promising career.
Both authors represent the much-needed Arabic voice and point of view in contemporary literature and offer similar themes of domestic and family life as portrayed in the male dominated cultures of Egypt and Sudan. And, it is especially important to have representation of realistic voices of Muslim women which Aboulela so competently depicts.
Although Aboulela still has a way to go before she enters the same literary landscape and brilliance as Mahfouz, she is well on the path to making that happen and will certainly act as an inspiration for future female Muslim novelists. Lyrics Alley, builds on her portfolio of her other books which include Minaret and The Translator.