DubaiReader's Reviews > Desertion

Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah
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Nov 23, 10

bookshelves: 2010
Read in November, 2010 — I own a copy

An illuminating insight into forbidden love.

This was not an easy read. There was something about the style in which it was written, almost poetic in places, that made to mere 260 pages feel like a tome.
I chose to read the book because it is written by a Zanzibari author and I was visiting Zanzibar at the time. From this perspective I found I could relate more to the second half of the book, set in the 50's in the capital, Stone Town. Many of the buildings mentioned I had walked past or visited and this lifted the book for me.
The first half was set at the turn of the previous century and some of the historical detail was quite dense.

There are five main characters in Part I; the shop keeper Hassanali, his sister Rehana and his wife Malika are all natives of Zanzibar but with Indian descent. Martin Pearce, an English adventurer stumbles into their lives after being abandoned in the desert by his Somali guides and falls for Rehana. Frederick Turner, a representative of the British colonial rule, houses and befriends Martin. Apart from a lot of background description and rambling, not a lot happens.
The move to part II is jerky, without explanation, and involves a family in Zanzibar; mother, father, daughter Farida and two sons, Rashid and Amin. Amin falls for Jamila, an older woman with a chequered history. At the time we are not told that she is the grand-daughter of Martin and Rehana but I don't think it would hurt to mention that here as it makes the story more comprehensible and I would have prefered to have known how the characters were significant. This was a less historical section which gave a strong feel for the importance of shame and appearances in the Muslim community and I felt for the lovers in their trials.
Finally the parts are brought together and the background story revealed.

I had previously read By the Sea and found it hard going so the style was no surprise this time around. If you are travelling to Zanzibar, however, then I would highly recommend this book.
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