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Leonora Carrington is perhaps the most enchanting of the women Surrealists. Theadaughter of Anglo Irish privilege, she broke free of her manor-house upbringingaand fled, first to art school, and then to the Continent. Though she is best knownaas a painter of the gothic fantastic, with a cult following and one-woman shows atamuseums around the world, her writing is no less striking. Down Belowadescribesathe events of 1940, when, after her longtime lover, artist Max Ernst was sent toaa concentration camp, Carrington was oled across the border of Knowledgeo andaimprisoned in a sanatorium for the insane. This powerful testament, reminiscent ofaCarrington’s great novel The Hearing Trumpet, ranks with the work of Sylvia Plathaand Janet Frame in its raw evocation of madness.
After years of study in Europe, the young narrator of “Season of Migration to the North” returns to his village along the Nile in the Sudan. It is the 1960s, and he is eager to make a contribution to the new postcolonial life of his country. Back home, he discovers a stranger among the familiar faces of childhood–the enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa takes the young man into his confidence, telling him the story of his own years in London, of his brilliant career as an economist, and of the series of fraught and deadly relationships with European women that led to a terrible public reckoning and his return to his native land.
But what is the meaning of Mustafa’s shocking confession? Mustafa disappears without explanation, leaving the young man–whom he has asked to look after his wife–in an unsettled and violent no-man’s-land between Europe and Africa, tradition and innovation, holiness and defilement, and man and woman, from which no one will escape unaltered or unharmed.
“Season of Migration to the North” is a rich and sensual work of deep honesty and incandescent lyricism. In 2001 it was selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century.