Tayeb Salih: Seasons of Migration to the North

Elin Raun, undergraduate student, DePauw University

Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih, is a gripping tale of two seemingly parallel postcolonial subjects who each spend a considerable amount of time in England and then both return to the Sudan. The plot develops as the two protagonists, the anonymous narrator and Mustafa, begin to realize their similarities and interact in Africa. My analysis concentrates mostly on the first sixty pages, but the issues therein are crucial to understanding the end of the book.

First, the title and how it plays into the story that Mustafa tells the narrator is very interesting. More than once Mustafa makes reference to the north as more than just a direction, but more of an ideology. "In her eyes I was a symbol of all her hankerings. I am south that yearns for the North and the ice" (30). The competition between the north and south in both the minds of Mustafa and the narrator is present throughout the novel. Along with this, Mustafa embodies an "icy" aura and contends to have no feelings or emotions, just a heartless and reckless person. The two aspects are present together in this passage dealing with a woman, "...a southern thirst being dissipated in the mountain passes of history in the north" (42). Was Mustafa longing to be one with the north and leave the south behind? Yes, he attempted to do this, but with the presence of the Jean Morris scandal, he retreats to the Sudan. However, he never truly divorces himself from the North and this is evident when the narrator enters Mustafa's study after his death and finds a shrine to the North within the brick construction and the items within, including the extensive collection of books and photographs. The presence of this room proves that Mustafa was still enticed by the North even though he could no longer physically live there and the recreation of it in his study in the Sudan serves as a tribute to his past.

Secondly, the word choice that the author utilizes and how he refers back to the same phrases throughout is crucial to understanding the novel. Salih's writing style is mysterious and not complete at times, specifically in regards to Jean Morris, but he does draw the reader back each time he repeats something. Examples of this are, "And the train carried me to Victoria Station and to the world on Jean Morris" (29). This phrase is also used on page 31 and 33. Why the repetition when Mustafa doesn't even offer a first-hand account of the interactions with Jean Morris? All we know is from little bits of court reports, random interactions at parties, and these repetitive thoughts, but this is a harbinger that informs us that Jean Morris is of importance to the novels development. Also, Mustafa (or Salih) refers to a bow tightening, to keep the reader involved and uses it as a gauge so that we know how the story is progressing as the bow keeps becoming more tightly drawn.

The beginning of Seasons of Migration to the North is very interesting as the reader witnesses the formation of the plots that are further and intricately developed as Salih continues through this compelling tale of colonial subjects coping with the return to their postcolonial nation.

  [Postcolonial Web Overview] [Diasporas: Overview]

Last Modified: 9 July, 2002