The new novel from three times Orange Prize longlisted Leila Aboulela
Natasha Wilson knows how difficult it is to fit in. Born to a Russian mother and a Muslim father, she feels adrift in Scotland and longs for a place which really feels like home.
Then she meets Oz, a charismatic and passionate student at the university where Natasha teaches. As their bond deepens, stories from Natasha's research come to life - tales of forbidden love and intrigue in the court of the Tsar.
But when Oz is suspected of radicalism, Natasha's own work and background suddenly come under the spotlight. As suspicions grow around her, and friends and colleagues back away, Natasha stands to lose the life she has fought to build.
Aboulela, winner of the Caine Prize, pens an ambitious tri-continental story covering more than 200 years and tackling themes of Islamic faith, personal heritage, and the disparity between academic and personal reconstructions of historic events. The book has three clearly defined narrative sections, the first of which focuses on the protagonist, Natasha, a history professor in Scotland, as she researches and unravels the history of real-life 19th-century Muslim leader Imam Shamil and his role as a leader in the Caucasian War. To save his besieged city, Shamil must give up his son, Jamaleldin, to the attacking Russian army as a conciliatory gesture. The second narrative follows Jamaleldin growing up among the Russians, and his assimilation into their culture. In the third narrative, Natasha confronts her Muslim identity as she spends time with Shamil's descendants: a precocious student, Oz, who is active in the young Islamic group at Natasha's university, and his actress mother, Malak. Though the book takes time to gain its footing, Aboulela's (Lyrics Alley) is a nuanced story of identity and sense of place.