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 avoid—that of her Muslim heritage. When Oz is suddenly arrested at his home one morning, Natasha realizes that everything she values stands in jeopardy.
This story was told through a dual timeline; the present day from the perspective of Natasha Wilson and a historical timeline set in the late 1800s and told through the perspective of several different characters. The historical timeline essentially tells the life story of Imam Shamil. The two timelines are linked through the fact that Natasha Wilson is a professor of history and her primary area of expertise and interest is that of Imam Shamil.
I found the historical timeline far more interesting than the contemporary one and the majority of the book is devoted to the former which was good. The story did take a little time to properly get into because of the dual timeline but once I had my bearings, I was completely drawn in by the story.
This story primarily focused on Imam Shamil’s son who was kidnapped by the Russians and consequently grew up in Russia. His home country and relatives became strangers to him and he led a life starkly differently from their’s. When the two ways of life collide, it becomes extremely riveting. There was so much information and so many names and geographical details which were told through the chapters about Imam Shamil, however they were told in such a clever and interesting way that I never felt bored or confused by it, only more interested.
This is the second book I have read by Aboulela and I found it completely different from her first and I still loved her writing style and the way she wove the contemporary and historical stories together. The modern story was set in Scotland as with ‘The Translator’ which I loved and her characters were complex and deep.
I would definitely recommend this book, the life Imam Shamil and the far reaching consequences of it were so fascinating. I always love reading historical fiction based on true events and real people. The modern storyline let this book down a bit but that might be down to personal taste and the fact that the main character was not very likeable.