The narrator’s nonagenarian paternal grandfather lives a happy, stable life of prayer and socializing. To both the narrator and Mustafa Sa’eed, the grandfather represents the simple, virtuous country life that they yearn for. Although the narrator never calls his grandfather by name, we eventually learn that it is Hajj Ahmed.
The unnamed narrator of Season of Migration to the North was born in a normal farming family in Wad Hamid. However, his sharp intelligence and ambition allowed him to advance through the Sudanese education system and eventually attend university in London, where he earned a doctorate in British poetry. The narrator feels obliged to use his education to help advance Sudan, which had only been independent for 13 years when the novel was published. However, he finds this difficult because of his passive personality and widespread government corruption.
The narrator's father
A relatively minor figure in the novel, the narrator's father is kind and supportive to him. However, he is fundamentally conservative and cannot understand the narrator's objections to the oppression of women in village culture.
Mustafa Sa'eed looms in the narrator's thoughts throughout the novel. In his forties, Mustafa moved to Wad Hamid and remained a mysterious figure there, marrying a village woman, Hosna bint Mahmoud, but never speaking to anyone about his past. The narrator eventually learns that Mustafa is quite similar to himself––both men were highly intelligent as children, and attended university in the United Kingdom. However, while the narrator returned to Sudan and pursued a benign (if ineffectual) life of civil servitude, Mustafa Sa'eed tried to be an academic in the United Kingdom. His career was ruined after a series of sordid love affairs that culminated in Mustafa murdering his English wife, Jean Morris.
A prominent farmer in Wad Hamid, Mahmoud arranges the marriage between his daughter, Hosna, and Mustafa Sa’eed. Many of the village elders, including the narrator’s grandfather, judge Mahmoud for marrying his daughter to an outsider, but Hosna and Mustafa have a happy life together until the latter dies.
The eldest son of Hosna and Mustafa is also named Mahmoud, but he plays a very small role in the novel.
A lifelong womanizer, Wad Rayyes is in his late forties when the narrator first returns from Europe, and is in his seventies in the ‘present-day’ section of the novel. Although he already has several wives, he is determined to marry Hosna Bint Mahmoud after her husband dies.
The narrator’s good friend from elementary school. Mahjoub was cleverer than the narrator as a child, but didn’t pursue secondary school because he wanted to be a farmer. As an adult, he is the chairman of the Agricultural Project Committee and a major figure in village politics.
Bint Majzoub is famous in the village for her willingness to speak bluntly about sex. Now in her eighties, Bint Majzoub successively married five husbands when she was younger, each of whom died. She is the only village woman who drinks and socializes with the men, and her best friends are Wad Rayyes, Bakri, and the narrator's grandfather. Bint Majzoub is the first person to hear Hosna's screams on the night she murders Wad Rayyes, and she assumes that Hosna is screaming from an orgasm.
Hosna bint Mahmoud
The beautiful, modest wife of Mustafa Sa'eed. After Mustafa dies, she lives alone and cares for her two sons, rejecting all suitors. As the executor of Mustafa's estate, the narrator is technically her guardian, although he feels uncomfortable with this role. When Wad Rayyes proposes to Hosna, the narrator realizes he is in love with her but does not intervene to stop the marriage. Hosna resists being forced to marry Wad Rayyes, and eventually murders him.
Hosna and Mustafa's youngest son, named for his father. Not to be confused with Sa'eed the shopkeeper.
Sa'eed the shopkeeper
A village man.
The headmaster of Mustafa Sa'eed's elementary school in Khartoum.
The headmaster of Mustafa Sa'eed's secondary school in Cairo. He is fascinated by the Arabic language and architecture. He takes Mustafa under his wing, giving him room and board and showing him around Cairo.
The kindly wife of Mr. Robinson, who takes Mustafa Sa'eed under his wing when the latter is in secondary school. Mustafa develops a crush on Mrs. Robinson, and remembers her fondly throughout adulthood.
Mustafa's cruel, manipulative first wife. She continually rejects and humiliates him as a suitor, and then abruptly agrees to marry him. They have a fraught and tumultuous relationship, and eventually he stabs her to death while having sex with her.
A privileged twenty-year-old student of Oriental languages at Oxford, and Mustafa Sa’eed’s first girlfriend in Britain. She kills herself by gas and leaves a note blaming her death on Mustafa.
Sir Arthur Higgins
The Principal Prosecutor in Mustafa Sa’eed’s trial for murdering Jean Morris. Mustafa took a course in criminal law at Oxford that was taught by him. Arthur Higgins is known as a womanizing bohemian, and had a friendly relationship with Mustafa before the trial.
Professor Maxwell Foster-Keen
A prominent right-wing figure in London, and Mustafa Sa’eed’s former professor at Oxford. Despite his dislike of Mustafa (and bitterness toward Africans more generally), he earnestly defends him in his trial for murdering Jean Morris because it is an important case.
A "Mamur" is a generic title for a high-level civil servant. The narrator encounters a retired Mamur on a train, and in conversation discovers that he was a classmate of Mustafa Sa'eed. The Mamur shares his memories of Mustafa with the narrator, as well as his reflections on working as a tax collector during the British occupation of Sudan.
An Englishman who attended Oxford a few years after Mustafa Sa’eed and works at the Ministry of Finance in Khartoum.
A left-wing Sudanese civil servant who argues with Richard at the party in Chapter 3.
One of the narrator’s uncles. Although most men in the village only take one wife, Abdul Karim has been married several times, and has also had affairs.
One of the narrator’s uncles.
One of the narrator’s uncles. He is cynical and believes that the government cannot do anything right.
The most accomplished engineer in Wad Hamid, who was put out of business when people started using store-bought doors in their houses and water pumps instead of water-wheels.
Not to be confused with Wad Baseer. Long dead, he was Bint Majzoub’s favorite of her eight husbands.
A friend of the narrator’s grandfather. He takes a moderate stance on female circumcision, and tries to discourage Wad Rayyes from marrying Hosna, saying that Wad Rayyes ought to focus on preparing himself spiritually for death.
Wad Rayyes’s eldest wife. She is completely unfazed by his death, and believes he deserves his fate.
The daughter of Scottish coal workers, Sheila Greenwood is Mustafa's second girlfriend during his time in London. She is charming and innocent, and had an idyllic relationship with Mustafa until she kills herself upon realizing he does not intend to marry her.
Season of Migration to the North Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Season of Migration to the North is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The narrator waits until he enters Mustafa’s private room to relate the most violent and sexually charged memories from Mustafa’s story in Chapter 2. By adding pieces to Mustafa’s story retroactively, the narrator undermines his own reliability;...