An intelligent and compelling novel that lifts a corner of the veil that covers the misery of so many women’s lives
Sudan, 1968, the military coup taking place in Khartoum echoes all the way to the small rural town of Hajer Narti, where the body of a young girl has just been found in the Nile. Like every time a body is washed up on the shore, Fatima shows up, According to popular belief, when the Nile brings a new body back, it also brings back an old one. Fatima is still looking for her daughter Su'ad, believed to have drowned many years ago.
The Drowning is Hammour Ziada’s third novel. With scarce descriptions, and just the minimal amount of words, Ziada succeeds in portraying very convincing characters, and in poignantly capturing the violence of social relations in a strictly codified society. Only 13 year-old Abeer eludes the reader. Like a dream all men try to catch throughout the novel, Abeer floats silently across town, a fluttering butterfly.
Hammour Ziada is an award-winning Sudanese writer and journalist. His previous novel The Longing of the Derwish won the 2014 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature and was shortlisted for the International Prize of Arabic Fiction.
“Ziada (The Book of Khartoum) delves into forced marriages, sexual violence, and oppression in a rural Sudanese town in this affecting if opaque nonlinear narrative … [A] haunting portrayal of the Nile as both lifeblood and ever-present threat ….”
– Publishers Weekly
“[The Drowning] opens dramatically with the appearance of the drowned body of a woman at a village near the shores of the Nile. Who is she? Why was she killed? Neither of these questions is ever answered and instead we are plunged into the life of the villagers, their conflicts, histories, and relationships. This is a gripping, visceral novel, written with extraordinary energy. When I finished reading it, I felt as if a storm had ended and I was left strangely with a glimpse of the drowned woman and an understanding of why she died, like a scene illuminated in a flash of lightning.”
– Leila Aboulela in LitHub’s “Writers and the Books they Loved”
“In his latest novel, The Drowning, translated into English by Paul G. Starkey, the Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada expertly weaves together several complex stories. He breaks up their chronological order without losing the logic of narration, describes chaos while advancing the story line without dropping a single thread. Taking the course of the Nile River as his setting, Mr. Ziada creates unforgettable and brilliantly wrought characters: Bashir, who mourns the loss of his wife; Fayit, who doesn’t want to face ostracism again; her daughter, Abeer, who ends up on a similar path of suffering; and Fatima, who dutifully waits on the banks of the river for the return of her daughter. ‘Every time a body is washed up on the shore, Fatima shows up. According to popular belief, when the Nile brings a new body back, it also brings back an old one.’ Her wait is striking in its delicacy and overwhelming in its importance. The Drowning portrays the bittersweet contradictions of today’s Sudan.”
– Wall Street Journal, Five Best Novels from the Horn of Africa