Spirit of great African novelist and short-story writer Tayeb Salih lives on


It was American novelist Chuck Palahniuk who said:

“The unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it, because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, belief fantasies that exist. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die, and become history. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on and on”.

Precisely, and true to Palahniuk’s inspirational wisdom, the literary spirit of Sudanese most foremost novelist and short story writer Tayeb Salih, is living on and on and is destined to persist for generations, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the government of Sudan and her people to keep his spirit alive through the timely establishment of the Tayeb Salih International Annual Literary Award.

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The award has gone a long way in shaping up the creativity of Sudanese budding authors, enhancing a sense of belonging in the lovers of literature in the vast African continent and creating an ideal forum for intellectual participation and discussion particularly from the more established Arabic writers, besides sustaining the thoughts, vision and aspirations of the fallen literary giant who, for decades, thrilled and inspired millions with his ideals and splendid imagination.

Salih’s gift of modern and ancient story-telling was unique. He was a compelling writer and his works were as fascinating as they were illuminating.

It is for this reason that the world of academia in Sudan opted to honor him posthumously with an award named after him, and which will forever embrace his literary achievements in country and beyond, and keep the fire burning.

The Al Talib Salih International Award is an annual award for creative writers (or masterpieces), where writers and critics from Sudan and abroad, take part in its competition. Elaborate preparations are in top gear for the presentation of the prestigious award later this year.

Tayeb Salih’s works, not usually given to hyperbole’s, are generally considered political, and tackle serious themes such as colonization and gender.

Salih was also considered one of the best short-story writers in the Arab World.

He was catapulted to international fame by his moving novels: “The Wedding of Zein”, “Season Of Migration to the North”, written in 1966″, and with his short stories, chief among them,:”A Handful of Dates”.

However, “Season Of Migration To The North”, has been most popular.

Several of his books were translated into dozens of languages and for which, he received many international awards.

Salih was born in 1929 in the Northern Province of Sudan in a village called Karmakol;he studied at the University of Khartoum, before moving to the University of London.

For a short spell, he worked as a school master before migrating to England, to have an extended working life in broadcasting at the BBC.

When he died of kidney failure on February 18, 2009, Jamal Mahjoub- that sensational and award-winning author of mixed British/Sudanese heritage, wrote an obituary two days later in The Guardian, saying:

“Tayeb Salih, who has died aged 80, was Sudan´s most illustrious literary figure, a critically acclaimed and popular writer in the Arab world… Salih was a quiet, courteous man. Respectful of tradition, yet not bound to it, he enjoyed intellectual discussion and always had time for younger writers. He played an active role in the world of letters, presiding over literary prizes and speaking at conferences throughout the region. A popular series of his collected works is widely available in Arabic, and reflects a much more diverse range of writing than is obtainable in translation, spanning decades of fiction, literary criticism, travel writing and political commentary”.

Jamal Mahjoub, who had largely been influenced by Salih, pens his literary works from Barcelona, and is quite popular in Africa for his books, “Wings Of Dust”, and “Navigation Of A Rainmaker”.

Last February 18, Vice-President of the Republic of Sudan, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, presided over the activities of the Al Tayeb Salih International Award, in the presence of the Award’s chairman, Prof Ali Mohamed Shomou and a galaxy of Arab writers and critics.

During the celebrations, Taha honored a number of writers and critics.

Zain Telecommunication Company annually sponsors the competition.

The Vice-President of the Republic graced the closing of the Al-Tayeb Salih International Award distribution ceremony, honoring various Sudanese and non-Sudanese writers and authors, in the domain of short story, essays and literary criticism.

The first award of eight thousand US dollars on short story category was bagged by Ahmed Al Jally Ahmed from Sudan , the second prize of six thousand US dollars on same category was won by Amar Ali Hassan from Egypt, while the third of four thousand US dollars went to Ismail Ghazali from Morocco .

The second category in the Tayeb Salih International award, deals with literary criticism; the first prize in this category was won by Omar Ashoor from Algeria, who took home eight thousand US dollars, the second by Ahmed Rayeb from Egypt, who went away with six thousand US dollars, and the third in the second category by Hassan Abashar Al Tayeb from Sudan, who took away four thousand US dollars.

The third category deals with the Novel. The first prize in this category was won by Saad Al Gishir from Egypt, who took home ten thousand US dollars, the second prize by al Zain Banaga, from Sudan, who went away with seven thousand US dollars, while the third prize in this category was won by Mohamed al Hassan Al Bakri from Syria, who went away with four thousand US dollars.

Managing Director of the Zain telecommunication firm which sponsored the event, Fatih Irwa, assured the attendants that the company would see to it that the award continues as an incentive for encouraging young talents of the nation all along the Arab world to pursue their creative arts. The ceremony was attended by the Qatari Minister for Culture Dr Ahmed Ahmed Al kawari and other leading government officials, as well as the family of the late Sudanese artist and novelist.

A great thinker and intellectual of high standing, Tayeb Salih had the capacity to think from the largest to the smallest of particles.

He possessed an incredible grasp of all the nooks and crannies of his native country, judging from the moving and accurate illustrations he gave in his books, despite having moved out of his motherland for many years and settling abroad.

He remains as popular in death as he was in life in the Arab world.

Salih’s superbly edifying novel, “Season Of Migration To The North”, perceived as an irresistible page-turner by admirers and critics alike, has won accolades from several quarters throughout Africa and across the world.

The book, which chronicles a Sudanese man’s experiences of life and love in Britain in the 1960s, provides the prototype for an ever-accumulating pool of narratives about the colonial and post-colonial experience, which have become the core of post-colonial and subaltern studies.

There is demonstrable evidence to show that Tayeb Salih helped bring the culture of the Nile and its villages to the international reader, he, along with several other writers from Southern Africa

After his university education, and exciting times at the BBC, Salih also had a stint at the UN’s cultural organization UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

Salih was one of the most-translated and best-known Arabic novelists of the 20th century.

His works were translated into more than 20 languages.

Long before the term ‘clash of civilizations’ became known, Khaled Mubarak, press attache at the Sudanese Embassy in London, declared of “Season of Migration to the North”: “Tayeb Salih has written about co-existence of civilizations… In the end, his novel ends actually in a tone of possible co-existence, possible enrichment of the two civilizations and the idea that both can look forward to stronger relations in the future. So, it was a very positive novel in this sense.”

Several Sudanese literary groups called for the nomination of Salih for the Nobel Prize.

However, Salih never got to become the recipient of the coveted Nobel Literature Award but won many other international awards.

The late celebrated and influential Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, famed for such catchy titles as, ” Palace Of Longing “, “The Thief And The Dogs”, and “Small Talk On The Nile”, is the only Arab writer ever to have won the prestigious prize in 1988.

Tayeb Salih’s classic “Season of Migration To The North”, illustrates in an epochal fashion, a Sudanese man’s experiences of life and love in Britain in the 1960s.

When a young man returns to his village in the Sudan after many years studying in Europe, he finds that among the familiar faces there is now a stranger– the enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed.

As the two become friends, Mustafa narrates to the younger man the disturbing story of his own life in London after the First World War.

Lionized by society and desired by women as an exotic novelty, Mustafa was driven to take brutal revenge on the decadent West and was, in turn, destroyed by it.

Now, the terrible legacy of his action has come to haunt the small village at the bend of the Nile .

The story of a man undone by a culture that in part created him, “Season Of Migration To The North” is a powerful and evocative examination of colonization in two vastly different worlds.

But in relation to the aphorism that credit should also go to where it is due, translation of the great writer’s literary works would not have been possible had it not been for the quick wit and indefatigable efforts of one man.

This man is none other than the conscientious Denys Johnson-Davies, also an author of several books, and who accurately translated Tayeb Salih’s works from Arabic to English.

For this, Deny’s Johnson-Davies- reputed for his outstanding translation acumen, has etched himself a place in history, as he has done more than any other translator to introduce in English the best contemporary writing in the Arab world.

It was Deny’s who translated from Arabic to English Tayeb Salih’s “Season of Migration To The North”, and “The Wedding of Zein”.