28 February, 2013

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (1966)

Considered something of a classic and a very readable one at that, Salih's novel is narrated by a young man returning to his Sudanese village after studying abroad, only to find a mysterious man living there. That man confides that he too studied abroad and relates his time in England, his seduction of various Western women and the abiding sense that he was caught between two worlds. It all ties together in the end but some plot points do stretch credibility. Still, the frank discussion of sex must have made this book dynamite when first published in Arabic in 1966 and it remains a poignant meditation on colonialism.

11 February, 2013

The Last Kings of Thule by Jean Malaurie (1955)

In 1950, Malaurie, a French geographer/ethnographer, spent a year living with the most northern people on Earth - the Inughuit - while he mapped the northern reaches of Greenland and recorded their disappearing lifestyle. From hunting techniques and remarkable ice sea crossings to Canada, to consensual partner swapping to stay sane through the interminably long, dark winters, it is the irrepressible personalities of the Eskimos that really shine in this memorable book. The account finishes with the building of a huge, secret US airbase at Thule heralding the end of their harsh but happy traditional way of life – something subsequent editions go on to detail.