‘Here is where I am’: Rerooting diasporic experience in Leila Aboulela’s recent novels
In the landscape of postcolonial diaspora studies, the recent novels of ScottishSudanese author Leila Aboulela present something of a conundrum. Her novels The Translator (1999) and Minaret (2005) both display an acute awareness of the transitional complexities of space, belonging and identity entailed in the diasporic experience; concerns which are perhaps unsurprising, given that Aboulela, the daughter of Sudan’s first female demographer, was born in Khartoum and has subsequently moved between Egypt, Jakarta, Dubai, London and Aberdeen (Sethi 2005). The vast backdrop of (dis)location that informs Aboulela’s writing seems to point towards the deterritorialized cartographies of the increasingly ‘borderless world’ often configured by postcolonial theorists (Miyoshi 1993: 726). Yet the textual landscapes of Aboulela’s novels conjure diasporic landscapes formed not in the interstices, on the move or in the margins, but born out of the secure boundaries of faith-based community and identity, in which the establishment of roots – those constructs of essence, origin and belonging so frequently the subject of deconstruction – are posited as central to the diasporic experience. Aboulela’s work therefore invites the postcolonial theorist not only to challenge the associations of rootedness with mental and spatial restriction, but to turn their attention towards questions of faith-based identity and community, and in so doing, to move towards the more nuanced and attentive conceptualization of Islamic faith and Muslim identity which, this chapter will suggest, must surely form an increasingly important direction in contemporary postcolonial scholarship.