Sudan Literature

The earliest forms of Sudanese literature are oral traditions mostly of religious and mythological content, which were first recorded from the second half of the 19th century. Significant evidence of the country’s oral tradition can also be found in the Sudanese fairy tales, which are mostly passed on by women in the family environment, and in the country’s multifaceted proverbs. The written literature developed only in the British colonial era with the advent of newspapers in which, under strong cultural influence of Egypt, were published mainly short stories and poems.

The first novel in Sudanese literary history was “Tajuj ” by Osman Mohammed Hashim, a love story published in 1948.

According to hyperrestaurant, the Sudanese novel that is probably best known internationally today and belongs to the eternal top ten of Arabic literature is “Time of the North Migration” by Tayeb Salih, which was published in book form in 1969 and even found its way into the curricula of Sudanese schools for some time. In the 1990’s, at the time of the introduction of Sharia law, the censors then classified it as morally reprehensible and as unrealistic in the representation of the Sudanese living conditions. “The time of the north migration” was long considered the cult book of Arab youth.

Like many of the Sudanese authors, Salih began his work with short stories before his first novel “The Wedding of Zain ” was published in 1964 (new edition 2004 “Sains Wedding”). Tayeb Salih has spent most of his life abroad and describes the clash of tradition and modernity and the clash of European and Arab culture, especially with “Zeit der Nordwanderung ” and his last novel “Bandarschah”.

As an introduction to Salih’s not extensive artistic work, his short stories, which were also published in German in “Eine Handvoll Datteln”, are particularly suitable.

Tayeb Salih emphasized that every classical poem in Arabic literature is worth more than his novels and complained throughout his life that only a few “Western” publishers in the past were willing to publish the rich Arabic literature and that the West thus remained alien to this culture. Salih died as one of the most important Arab authors in 2009.

Leila Aboulela

On the death of Tayeb Salih

SRF audio report about the work of Tayeb Salih (02/29/2009, 04:13 min.)

Leila Aboulela, who grew up in Sudan and lived in Scotland for a long time, is very well known in Germany. In all of her works, written in English, she deals with the encounter of cultures and thus primarily processes her studies in Great Britain. Her first novel “The Translator”, which earned her the greatest recognition, and the collection of short stories “Der Seele Raum” have been published in German translation. This also includes the story “Das Museum”, for which Aboulela received the first Caine Prize for African Literature in 2000. In addition to their short stories, e.g. “, “Souvenir” or “Glass Enclave “, appeared with “Minaret” (2005), “Lyrics Alley” (2010) and “The Kindness of Enemies” (2015), which is considered to be her best story, so far three other novels.

Other well-known representatives of Sudanese literature who live abroad are, for example, Tarek El-Tayeb, a poet and novelist based in Austria, for example of “Cities without Dattelpalmen” (reading sample, originally published in 1988), and Jamal Mahjoub, who publishes in English many short stories and for example his novel “The Drift Latitudes” (2006) or Hammour Ziada, who with his novel about the Mahdi uprising “The Longing of the Dervish” (2014) achieved a milestone in the newer Sudanese literature and therefore with the internationally significant Naguib Mahfouz Medal was awarded. Hammour Ziada has lived in Cairo since 2009 and supported the protest movement in Sudan in 2012.

Other Sudanese authors living abroad also take a critical look at the government policy of their country and are then banned from entering the country by Sudan. Tayeb Salih, for example, who was seen as a harsh critic of the Sudanese government’s Darfur policy, was also regularly affected.

The Khartoum-based poet and cultural activist Mamoun Eltlib describes how the authors who remained in the country deal with the reprisals by the authorities. As a result of the extensive restriction of freedom of expression, with ongoing bans by numerous civil society organizations, the Sudanese writers’ association came into the crosshairs of the Sudanese authorities in January 2015 and was closed. Immediately after Al-Bashir came to power in 1989, the association was banned once. In the context of the liberalization at the time of the peace agreement with South Sudan in 2005 and when Khartoum became the cultural capital of the Arab world in the same year, this was allowed to be reactivated.

Along with the economic decline of the last few years, the market for literature in Sudan has also fallen flat. Almost all of the once numerous bookstores in Khartoum have given up and public libraries are nowhere to be found either. In 2012, the Mafroush, a second-hand book market on the street, was established in Khartoum, where used books are sold or exchanged on one day a month. This was also temporarily closed by the authorities in early 2015.