The Translator – Book Review

‘It’s a lonely thing,’ he said, ‘you can’t avoid it.’
‘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.


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    • Anonymous on March 23, 2007 at 14:58

    Man, Wendy, you are whipping through these NYTs at an alarming rate! You are going to have them all done by Halloween! Plus you are reading other stuff… I’m rather in awe. I really need to get on the ball. Wasting too much time on the internets, I’m afraid.
    My library doesn’t own a copy of this book (grrr), so I’ll have to wait for it to come out in paperback and then buy a copy. Looks interesting and somewhat lighter than others in this challenge.

    • Anonymous on March 24, 2007 at 08:34

    Ooh, I’m glad to read your review. I thought this book looked good and I hope to read it later for a Reading Across Borders book. Thanks for the review.

    • Anonymous on March 24, 2007 at 10:34

    I hope you like it as much as I did – I found it to be a very ‘soothing’ sort of book. And, I’m a sucker for love *G*

    • Anonymous on March 24, 2007 at 13:49

    Ask about inter-library loan. Our library doesn’t advertise it, but they do it.

    • Anonymous on July 28, 2007 at 17:01

    Thanks for this review, Wendy. I quoted 2 or 3 of your sentences when I added this book to my Book around the World blog:
    And I gave you credit, of course. This will be a book for Scotland.

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