BOOK REVIEW: Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela

Pages: 308
Rating: 4.5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Themes: Faith, Love, Loss, Perseverance
Setting: Sudan, Cairo, London

Leila Aboulela, the author of this book is a fiction writer of Sudanese origin who currently lives in Great Britain. She grew up in Sudan’s capital Khartoum and wrote this particular book based off her uncle’s unfortunate story. You can definitely see bits and pieces of her in the characters that she portrays, the ambition in the younger female characters and the fierceness of the male characters.

‘… and when Nur sang Ah the ache was there for everyone to hear and everyone to share. His passion in colloquial truth. Soraya wanted this combination of music and poetry to last and last and to become part of the fabric of Umdurman. For every wedding party, for boys to hum in the alleys on their way to school, for schoolgirls to copy in secret notes. For lovers, not yet born to sing in the style of their times…’


Centred in the alleys of 1950’s Umdurman Sudan, Leila reels her readers into the experiences of her characters and creates an interconnection that I haven’t witnessed in most fiction books. With a blend of characters from Cairo, Khartoum, London and Umdurman, Leila captivates the reader as she draws you into the life of a character and then gives you diverse impression of the same character through the eyes of another.

Nur, the protagonist of the book and the major connection to the title is a promising son of Mahmoud Abuzeid as he is attending college at Victoria University with a high intellectual wit. An unfortunate turn of events causes him to lose his mobility and the love of his life, his cousin Soraya, to whom he was betrothed, must marry another. The story surrounding the pre and post-accident of Nur Abuzeid will definitely give you an insight into the belief system and the traditions in Sudan, the intricacies of family relations, the colonial rule of the British and the faith and religion at that time.

Just as chaos always unfolds in the eye of the hurricane, Nur’s beloved is betrothed to his best friend, and it is at this point that discovers his voice, the poetry which flows so gently off his lips. He starts to write a collection of poems through his nephew’s hands. Poems of loss, pain unfathomable, love, bitterness, anger and later hope. These poems are consequently transformed into songs as lyrics by Sudan’s most beloved musician at that time and the title of the book is brought to life with the lyrics of Nur’s songs flowing through the alleys of Umdurman and restoring hope.

My favourite character as I read this was Ustaz Badr. How his character develops through the pages is just amazing. He is an Arabic teacher by profession and a personal tutor to the Abuzeid children. He is married to Hanniya and they have sons and a daughter much later. They live in a single hoash with his mentally disabled father, 3 sons and a cousin from Cairo. He comes to Sudan from Egypt to try and make a living for his family and despite all the injustices inflicted on him over time, his faith and daily prayers from the Quran sustain him and his family as he joyfully perseveres through it all. I’d like to say he was a binding force of the characters in the book.

Leila Aboulela is definitely a wonder regarding the portrayal of Sudanese culture and life. I would recommend this book.

I know you’ll love interfacing with all these characters as you read, and I’d like to know what you thought of the book if you’ve read it before.



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