• The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela

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ISBN 9781474600927

The winner of the very first Caine Prize for African writing in 2000, Leila Aboulela is always briskly readable, but her intimate stories also have a depth and weight to them that stays with you long after you’ve put the book down. And though there is no shortage of secular writers writing about religion, Aboulela is the rare reverse, a novelist whose deep Muslim faith animates her explorations of Islamic identity in the secular world. Each chapter of The Kindness of Enemies begins in present-day Scotland—where a history professor must grapple with how to respond to a student of hers, she has been told, who has become “radicalized”—before moving back into the 1850s, where we get the story of her student’s ancestor, the Imam Shamil, whose 30-year campaign against the expanding Russian empire stands as one of the most successful military jihads in history. But as with all of Aboulela’s novels, her focus is essentially intimate, the story of small lives and loves; against the backdrop of war and empire, Aboulela’s eye is on human stories about lost faith and lost children, some of which are sometimes found again.