Review: The Wedding of Zein and Other Sudanese Stories

The Wedding of ZeinTayeb Salih, The Wedding of Zein and Other Sudanese Stories (trans. Denys Johnson-Davies)

This very short book contains two short stories, “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” and “A Handful of Dates,” as well as the novella “The Wedding of Zein.” All three works portray everyday life in a Sudanese village, but from varying perspectives. “The Doum Tree…” is about a sacred tree that is threatened when outsiders want to cut it down to make room for a new agricultural system. “A Handful of Dates” portrays a young boy’s disillusionment as he realizes that his grandfather isn’t as heroic as the boy once thought. And in “The Wedding of Zein,” the village laughingstock is about to be married to a beautiful and much-desired woman; the varied reactions of the townspeople to the news reveal subtle tensions within the village.

Before giving my thoughts on this book, I must admit that I know next to nothing about Sudan. I wasn’t even aware that its population spoke Arabic until I saw “translated from the Arabic” somewhere on my copy of the book! So I was very interested in reading these stories and broadening my horizons a little bit. Interestingly, my first impression after reading this book was that it could have been set in any number of places: the  country’s major conflicts of the last several years, including the secession of South Sudan, are not mentioned at all. Yet I did get a sense of the country’s Islamic culture and traditions, as well as its incorporation of progressive ideas in the realms of medicine and education. I found my glimpse into this foreign (to me) culture extremely fascinating. But I really liked the book’s focus on universal themes like love, family relationships, and the intricacies of village life. All in all, I found this book very easy to read and would definitely consider reading more by Tayeb Salih.

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5 thoughts on “Review: The Wedding of Zein and Other Sudanese Stories

  1. Shannon (Giraffe Days) says:

    I learnt recently that the north of the country is Muslim (and Arabic-speaking), and the south is all tribal with their own beliefs – so I’m thinking this is set in the north? It sounds like village life isn’t so different though – so far the two books I’ve read/am reading are both set in the south, and village life is prominent. So even when the focus is conflict and its impact on the people, I feel like I’m learning something about the land, culture and different tribes too! This does sound like a good book, and a refreshing change from war stories. I’ll have to keep my eye out for Tayeb Salih.

    • Christina says:

      Yes, I’m thinking this must be set in the north. I suppose that geographic divison makes sense given the cultural makeup of the rest of the region. It actually came as a surprise to me that Salih mentioned the Nile, which is stupid because of course the Nile would go through Sudan, since it’s practically due south of Egypt and all! But anyway, yes, I’d recommend Salih for sure. His other major work is Season of Migration to the North.

      • Shannon (Giraffe Days) says:

        A Long Walk to Water talked about crossing the Nile and I was surprised too – I hadn’t quite got it into my head where Sudan is in relation to other countries, how huge it is, or remembered how long the Nile was! (And when we were watching the National the other night and they were discussing all the troubles and unstable countries across the north of Africa, I felt really astounded that I hadn’t realised Libya was in Africa! I had always pictured it in the Middle East, like right next to Syria and Jordan, somewhere around there. My sense of geography is good in some areas, and absolute shit in lots more!!)

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