The writer of the Sudanese novel has passed into legend, at 80, of kidney complications. Yet, his most important book beat him to literary immortality by forty years at least. Season of Migration to the North was a signal book, a novel with perennial relevance, which persisted in the reader’s imagination, decade after decade.
It certainly haunted me. My 2006 paper, Journeying South-East Through North-West, presented to the ASA/UK conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London was seamed with echoes of his book. Earlier that year, when I visited Sudan, I had stopped over for drinks in his hometown by the Nile, an event I’ve since blogged. Salih was that great painter of the Sudanese countryside, and chronicler of his compatriots’ spirit. Reading his book was the luminous window into the world I entered. With his fictional world as backdrop, reality was one instance of deja vu after the other.
He was born in Marawi, Northern Sudan. It was still a small, sedate, place. Standing there by the bank of the Nile it was easy to imagine Salih’s narrator/hero, floating in the river at the end of Seasons of Migration.
The waters of life have now borne Salih himself off, on currents more insistent than those of the Nile. Yet, his work: his novels, short stories and columns, a published prowess that sprawls across twenty languages, a reputation as the writer of the 20th century’s greatest Arabic novel, all these presage a migration not to the North, but to the stars.
Rest now, Tayeb.