The Kindness of Enemies
Published by W&N 2015
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 vividly to life. As Natasha’s relationship with Oz and his alluring actress mother intensifies, Natasha is forced to confront issues she had long tried to avoidâ€”that of her Muslim heritage. When Oz is suddenly arrested at his home one morning, Natasha realizes that everything she values stands in jeopardy.
Told with Aboulela’s inimitable elegance and narrated from the point of view of both Natasha and the historical characters she is researching, The Kindness of Enemies is both an engrossing story of a provocative period in history and an important examination of what it is to be a Muslim in a post 9/11 world.
“A versatile prose stylist… [Aboulela’s] lyrical style and incisive portrayal of Muslims living in the West received praise from the Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee… [she is] a voice for multiculturalism.” – New York Times
“An intelligent hybrid novel, part set in Scotland today, part in the Caucasus in the 19th century; an enquiry into the nature of jihadism and a study of the clash of cultures.
One of Aboulela’s aims – apart from telling a fascinating story with the verve and assurance of a natural novelist – is surely to present a sympathetic picture of Islam to a western readership more accustomed to being given what, for devout Muslims, is a distorted and reprehensible version of their faith. She doesn’t quote Kipling, who wrote “where there is Islam, there is an intelligible civilisation”. Yet she might have done so, for this is one of the messages at the heart of her novel.
In short, Aboulela has written a novel which invites you to think about the times we live in, and to feel for the burden its discordant strains impose. This novel about different cultures is also an argument against an over-simplified view of things, of faiths and people.”- Allan Massie for the Scotsman