The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela [in Library Journal]
In a dual narrative, Leila Aboulela (Minaret; Lyrics Alley), winner of the inaugural Caine Prize for African Writing, exposes the impossibility of definitively taking sides. In 2010 Scotland, the global war on terror pixilates the lives of history professor Natasha, her student Oz, and his actress mother Malak, all initially brought together by Natasha’s research on Oz and Malak’s ancestor, the revered (real-life) Imam Shamil, anti-Russian leader of the Muslim tribes in the Caucuses region.
As academic research develops into personal relationships later devastated by outside accusations, Aboulela weaves in Shamil’s 19th-century history, from the abduction of his son by Russian royalty to Shamil’s retaliatory kidnapping of members of the aristocracy connected to the Russians, to his own eventual Russian exile. The resulting expansive, extraordinary saga –elegantly read by Ruth Urquhart, whose neutral voice adroitly avoids judgment – is both an illuminating explication, as well as an unflinching challenge to question assumptions, reject presuppositions, and read with eyes, hearts, and minds wide open.
Verdict: Libraries in search of nuanced, multilayered, relevant fiction should acquire all formats of Aboulela’s mesmerizing latest novel.