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The Kindness of Enemies

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  858 ratings  ·  149 reviews
It’s 2010 and Natasha, a half Russian, half Sudanese professor of history, is researching the life of Imam Shamil, the 19th century Muslim leader who led the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War. When shy, single Natasha discovers that her star student, Oz, is not only descended from the warrior but also possesses Shamil’s priceless sword, the Imam’s story comes vi ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Grove Press (first published August 13th 2015)
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The Kindness of Enemies deserves two ratings - 5 stars for the portion of it that is set in the 1850s (in the Caucauses and in Russia), in the third person, and focused primarily on Imam Shamil, a highlander Muslim warrior at war with the Russians (an actual historical figure) and Anna, a Georgian married to a Russian, whom Shamil takes and holds hostage for several months, and a 2.5 for the portion of it that is set in contemporary times and focuses on Natasha Wilson, in Scotland and the Sudan, ...more
Sep 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have never read anything by Leila Aboulela before; but knowing she has won the Caine Prize, the Scottish Book Award and has been shortlisted for several other awards, as well as having two books on the Orange Prize long list, I was eager to review this new book. Aboulela grew up in Khartoum and now lives in Scotland and both places feature in this novel which makes use of the now much over-used dual time line, taking place both in contemporary Scotland and Sudan and has a historical storyline ...more
Ron Charles
The flames of Sept. 11, 2001, not only recast America’s future, they illuminated a long-neglected history of conflict between the West and certain strains of Islam. Suddenly, for many of us, the present day had malignant roots we’d never recognized. Salman Rushdie recently added to the library of books on this vast subject with “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” a surprisingly whimsical story about warring genies reigniting an ancient battle in the modern age. And now comes anothe ...more
This fascinating and wonderful novel flicks back and forth telling two parallel stories and linking two different time periods. It's a book about multiculturalism, understanding other cultures and finding one's own identity in a multicultural world.
Leila Aboulela creates the character Natasha, a history professor living in Scotland in 2010 as a bridge between the two time periods. Born in Sudan of a Russian mother and Sudanese father, Natasha refers to herself as "a failed hybrid". She has los
In this beautifully written book by Leila Aboulela there are two stories: One is the story of Natasha, half Sudanese-half Russian, who has grown up in Scotland and lost all of her roots. The other is the story of Imam Shamil, a Muslim warrior battling the Russians in the 19th century and of Princess Anna of Georgia, whom he takes hostage in exchange for the return of his son Jamaleldin, who in turn has been a hostage of the Tsar since he was a young boy.

This is a book in which most of characters
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
When news broke last week of attacks in Beirut, Paris, and other cities around the world, as I always do, I turned to fiction to help make sense of the ongoing tragedy. Of course there isn’t any real sense to be found in the violent deaths of innocents; there never is. But suddenly my reading of The Kindness of Enemies took on a new urgency. Now more than ever, understanding Islam feels like an imperative, and more importantly, marking the distinction between its earnest practitioners and its ex ...more
Missy J
First time to encounter a work by Leila Aboulela. The Kindness of Enemies is a dual narrative; one story takes place in Scotland in 2010, while the other story is based on the life of Imam Shamil (a Muslim political and religious leader, who fought against the Russians) and takes place predominantly in the Caucasus region around 1850s.

In the contemporary story, we meet a history professor Natasha Wilson (Hussein), who is half Sudanese and half Russian. Her parents divorced when she was young an
Identity and belonging.
It took me quite a while to get into this book, I kept putting it down because it just wasn't grabbing me. Having given four stars to Lyric's Alley by the same author this was a bit disappointing, but I persevered and as a result I have learned about a time in history that I was totally unaware of. And there was a reward - it turns out that during a trip to Georgia I had actually visited the villa where Anna and her children were spending that fateful summer.

I had thought
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a 4.5 read for me.

Thoughts coming shortly
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela was a Goodreads First Reads win

This is a book about identity and belonging. It questions whether religious identity is with you from birth, or whether upbringing and culture are the main forces which create it.

Two stories interweave, one in the present, one in the nineteenth century. In both stories there are displaced people. In the past story, a warrior (Shamil) fights to defend his country (the Caucasus) against Russian invasion. He fights for his cu
Carol Douglas
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book. Leila Aboulela is a fine writer who covers new ground. One part of this story is set in Dagestan in the 19th century as it rebels against Russia. The other part is the story of a woman who is half Russian and half Sudanese who lives in Scotland and studies history. She's fascinated by the revolt in Dagestan that the other part of the book discusses. How wonderful it is to learn about places I've never read about before!
Imam Shamil, the leader of the Muslim resistance t
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela weaves two interlocking stories set approximately 150 years apart. Beginning in Scotland in 2010, one story is of Natasha Wilson (aka Hussein), a professor of mixed Sudanese and Russian heritage, torn between her two cultures and trying to define her place in the world. The second story is of Imam Shamil, a Muslim leader and member of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, who lead the resistance to Russian occupation of the Caucasus in the mid-1800s.
The thread tha
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't really explain why I love this. Okay, for a start, it wasn't anything I expected. I envisioned something a little more thriller, I guess, or contemporary political stuff. And sure, Oz's plight is a significant part of this story, but I was enraptured by the flashbacks to the life and times of Shamil, Anna, and Jamaleldin. That... was... Epic is the only word for it.

I have always loved Russian history, but for me, that was the Russian revolution and onwards. This step back, and the histor
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely engrossing read from Leila Aboulela with dual storylines: One of present day Scotland and radical jihad terrorism accusations and another of 19th century Muslim religious leader, Iman Shamil, The Lion of Dagestan, and the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War. This Caine Prize winner weaves a wonderful tale in a region and fight I knew very little about. I learned a lot from this fantastic novel and one of those things is not to overlook the unfamiliar. Or said differently, ...more
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Natasha Wilson is a history professor at a university in Scotland with an interest in 19th-century Russian history, specifically the anti-Russian resistance movement. One of her students, Oz Raja, is reportedly a descendant of one of the most popular leaders of this movement. Befriending this student and his mother sets Natasha on an amazing adventure of self-discovery and reconnecting with her past in The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela.

At the age of fourteen, Natasha Hussein was adopted
a favorite topic of mine is caucasus mountains area and this new novel promised a bit to fictionalize the saga of shamir freedom fighting against imperial russia in mid 1800's, and the thread ofhis son being given as collateral for treating, but was hustled off to st peterburg and became a russian military guy, a favorite of czar but a pawn and a tool, ultimately. meanwhile, this novel has a contemporary thread of scottish uni prof, origianlly from sudan, her dad sudan muslim, her mom russian, ...more
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The concept of jihad has become synonymous with terrorism but when Imam Shamil, an honorable, even noble, character uses the term, he is describing the defense of his homeland, not aggression or acts of terror. In the contemporary storyline, Oz is arrested and his university career derailed, it appears, solely because of online research he conducts for a course. And although Natalie wants nothing more than to feel at home somewhere, it is clear in Aboulela's novel, that for a young, intelligent ...more
This is my first book by Leila Aboulela. It's also the first time I've heard of Imam Shamil. It's an interesting story, divided into two parts. The historical sections deals with Imam Shamil and his insurrection against Imperial Russia, and his major mistake - the kidnapping of a Princess of Georgia and her children, as hostages in exchange for his own son in Russian arms.

The contemporary section tells the story of a Natasha Wilson, a Sudanese-Russian professor whose research is Shamil, and her
Oct 13, 2017 rated it liked it
A nineteenth century Muslim hero fights for his son’s freedom during the Caucasian War. While in a second narrative, a professor questions her values after a promising young student is arrested on suspicion of terrorism.

A multilayered novel with complex themes, which offered revealing insights into how Muslim people are and have been viewed by the West.

Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a satisfying read with likable characters. It takes place in two historical times and geographic places: in the present, mostly in Scotland but with a trip to Sudan; and in the 19th century Caucausus, Georgia, Dagostan, and a little into Russia.

Written in first person, the main character in the present is an academic and a scholar of Imam Shamil, an 18th century warrior and leader in the Caucasus. One of her students, Oz (Osama), is a bright star in her classroom with family connections
Hassan hamdoun
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
when I started the book I was thinking it differently and as I went on, I couldn't stop being impressed by the rapid movement and epicness of Leila writing and beautiful mix of history, identify and culture.

A story of faith, breadth of history, tolerance and belief. A story of what is home and how we can relate to it. A story of Khartoum, Aberdeen, Dargo, Caucasus and Kalugo,Petersburg and Georgia.

A story of what we call home in:
books, paintings, streets and memories..
in teachers, spiritual mo
Khris M =^.^=
Dec 08, 2019 rated it liked it
There were limits to how much he could reveal, restraints that he imposed on himself in order to continue to succeed.

3.5 stars

I liked it well enough though I had the feeling that certain relationships could have been explored further, perhaps even blossomed. I didn't like the end because I felt it left too many loose strings though it's possible this was the author's intention.

All the same, it was a wonderful learning opportunity.

Can't believe it took this long to finish though.
Shahda Al Taie
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book! I did have some issues with some parts (particularly the present timeline), but I think the other aspects really made up for it!

It had all the elements that I enjoy in a book - history, romance, royalty, war and a touch of internal conflict! I can't say enough to express how much I enjoyed the historic part and the interaction between Anna and Shamel. It was beautifully written by the brilliant Leila who knew how to slowly make me like Shamil and understand him as a
Robyn Ghafoor
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Finally finished the book alhamdulillah. I say finished, I skipped all the parts set in the 1800s as I just couldn't get into it and I felt the whole book was such a waste of time. So disappointed.
Shahd Fadlalmoula
Mar 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Leila Aboulela, the lyricist and the poet comes out to play, full-fledged, in this novel.
At first, I found the book slow, and her flash-fiction technique tiring. But soon, the little details she tucked into her prose became the detour to bringing the two worlds of her narrative alive! Her onerous descriptive style grew on me. I loved the overlap, and the subtle mirrors she layed out in the many layers of this story. The mirror between Natasha and Jamal, the mirror between Anna and Tony, the mirr
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Recommended to SARAH by: The Millions Most Anticipated 2016
It takes some courage to publish a book of this subject matter in today's political environment, especially from an author wearing a hijab in her official photo inside the dust jacket. As the title implies the characters in this book find themselves deep inside enemy territory for their ethnic and religious differences. The narrative is split into two threads: current day Scotland and mid 19th century in the Caucasus region. The sections about the Caucasus war between Russia and the Highlanders ...more
Anne Carlill
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Why did I really enjoy this book? Firstly, it is very topical at a time when western understanding of the Islamic world seems to be dipping. Secondly, the historical part is about an era and an area of the world, the mountainous Caucasus, that I knew nothing about so I relished the history it was teaching me. The main character is Natasha, a university lecturer with Sudanese and Russian parentage. Aboulela interweaves the contemporary tale, of a student accused of plotting terrorism, with the hi ...more
Aug 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read all three of Leila Aboulela's previous novels - this one was by far the best. I bought this book over the summer, but was sufficiently irritated with the vapidity of the Oz character to put it down, and not pick it up again for some months. (I still think the story might have been richer, more purposeful, had the Oz and Malak characters been omitted from it altogether - although I appreciate what the author was trying to achieve).

The rest of the book was much more readable - perfect
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
It looks like quite a few GR reviewers have thought that the historical portions of this book are stronger than the contemporary. For me, the first few pages had a bit of an info-dump feel, but after that I was equally wrapped up in both periods and didn't find it jarring at all to bounce between them.

I really like the way the author doesn't make the connections between the two periods obvious - it's only after I finished the book that I could start drawing parallels and contrasts. The Goodread
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a captivating novel that reflects the periods of time when Caucasian Muslim highlanders fought Tsarist Russia's attempted takeover of their land.This is interwoven with a modern day story of a biracial woman, a product of Russian and Sudanese parents, teaching in modern day Scotland about the anti- Russian resistance movement. Both stories reflect displaced people, and both focus on issues of identity.I had a hard time putting this one down, as it was so much more, and integrally interwoven ...more
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Leila Aboulela grew up in Khartoum, Sudan where she attended the Khartoum American School and Sister School. She graduated from Khartoum University in 1985 with a degree in Economics and was awarded her Masters degree in statistics from the London School of Economics. She lived for many years in Aberdeen where she wrote most of her works while looking after her family; she currently lives and lect ...more

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