Season of Migration to the North

Season of Migration to the North Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 and 8


After the boys’ circumcision ceremony, the narrator decides to drive back to Khartoum, even though he usually takes a boat on the Nile. It is very hot driving through the desert, and delirious from the heat, the driver runs his truck into a dry riverbed. The narrator’s mind wanders back to the events of his visit to Wad Hamid, and he dwells on bits of dialogue from the previous chapter.

The narrator thinks back to the circumcision ceremony, when he and Mahjoub got drunk and contemplated going into Mustafa’s private room. However, they passed out before they could do so. He then fantasizes about Mustafa’s sexual encounters with Isabella Seymour. The narrator imagines that Isabella worshipped Mustafa as a “black ... pagan god” (88-89), and that this conflicted with her religion, which is the real reason she killed herself.

The narrator and the driver continue their journey. When they pull over to rest, a Bedouin asks them for a cigarette. They give him one, and after smoking it, he has a seizure but recovers quickly. The narrator gives him the rest of his pack, and the truck continues on its way. He remains delirious from the heat, and quotes passages of Arabic poetry to himself. The truck passes a government car that has broken down, and the driver stops to give the soldiers some water and gasoline. The soldiers mention that they are on their way to arrest a tribal woman who killed her husband. They say that they do not know who the woman was, but the narrator does not believe them because it is so rare for a woman to kill a man. He suggests to the soldiers that the woman is innocent and the husband may have died of sunstroke. The soldiers and the narrator part ways.

The narrator resolves to write to Mrs. Robinson, who moved to the Isle of Wight after Mr. Robinson died of typhoid in Cairo. He believes that she can give him more information about Mustafa Sa’eed, since she was present at his trial. Night falls, and the truck stops overnight at a rest stop. The drivers sing and dance together, and a nearby Bedouin tribe joins the party.

Twenty-nine days later, the narrator receives a cable from Mahjoub saying that Hosna has murdered Wad Rayyes and killed herself, just as she promised. He immediately returns to Wad Hamid, and Mahjoub, who feels guilty about the tragedy, is the only person to greet him when he arrives. Although the narrator wants to know what happened, Mahjoub changes the subject and asks about the latest political developments in Khartoum. The narrator does not want to talk politics because he is ashamed at the behavior of the corrupt government officials. They spend millions of pounds on lavish clothing and offices while doing nothing to improve Sudanese schools.

Finally, Mahjoub explains to the narrator what happened with Hosna. Wad Rayyes continued to insist on the marriage, and Hosna’s father beat her until she submitted. Furious at being forced into the marriage, she refused to have sex with Wad Rayyes or even speak to him. At this point, Mahjoub is interrupted by the narrator’s mother, who is angry because she thinks that the narrator had an affair with Hosna. The narrator goes to visit his grandfather, who cries for Wad Rayyes but does not give him any new information.

The narrator goes to Bint Majzoub, reasoning that if she will not tell him what happened, no one will. She recalls hearing Hosna’s screams one night, and assuming, along with the other villagers, that she has finally had sex with Wad Rayyes and is screaming from pleasure. Wad Rayyes eventually starts yelling too, and they realize he is calling for help. Bint Majzoub gets the men of the village, and they go to Wad Rayyes’s house. They see that both Hosna and Wad Rayyes are naked. Hosna is covered in bits and scratches with a knife plunged into her heart, and Wad Rayyes has many stab wounds. Some of the women tried to hold a funeral for Hosna, but Mahjoub threatened to break their necks. Wad Rayyes’s eldest wife, Mabrouka, is unfazed by his death, and she says he deserved it for forcing Hosna to marry him.

The narrator goes to see Mahjoub, who says that Hosna was insane and did not deserve a proper burial. The narrator is furious and attempts to strangle him. A scuffle ensues, and the narrator faints as he feels someone pulling him off Mahjoub.


The short seventh chapter fits oddly into the rest of the narrative. None of its events is central to the plot, and Salih might easily have omitted it completely. Stylistically, it foreshadows the unification of Mustafa’s and the narrator’s consciousnesses in Chapter 9. It is initially implied that the narrator is alone on his journey back to Khartoum, and that he is driving the truck himself. We only learn that the driver is present when the narrator abruptly switches to the first-person plural (“we”) halfway through the chapter. A similar transition will occur in Chapter 9, and again readers will have to infer who the other person is, rather than being told explicitly.

Chapter 7 also presents an unlikely parallel to the murder-suicide of Hosna and Wad Rayyes. The soldiers that the narrator encounters on the road cannot possibly be going to investigate the murder in Wad Hamid, since the narrator only finds out about the murder a month later, and even in Sudan, telegrams would not take four weeks to arrive. The narrator observes that it is exceptionally rare for women to murder their husbands, so this coincidence suggests that the murders are the result of some broader social discord.

The lyrical narration of Chapter 7 gives way to the narrator’s more established, clear style in Chapter 8, when he returns to Wad Hamid after hearing of the murders. Bint Majzoub’s assumption that Hosna’s screams were from orgasms and not pain is significant because it reinforces Salih’s association of sex with violence. For the women of Wad Hamid, the distinction between the two is blurred, because men use sex to subjugate and control women.

Given the violence and emotional power of Chapter 8, the narrator’s digression about education policy stands out. Mahjoub argues that the narrator’s latest project to unify African school curriculum is silly when schools are underfunded and children do not have the transportation to get to them. However, the real evil in this section is not the curriculum-unification plan, but rather the narrator’s hypocritical colleagues, who spend government money on themselves and their wives. By placing this digression in the middle of the novel’s most viscerally violent chapter, Salih associates the corruption with the viscerally violent description of the murder-suicide. Just as sex is a kind of violence used to control women, so corruption is a kind of violence used to control the Sudanese population, keeping them poor and uneducated.

Mahjoub’s personality undergoes a surprising shift in this section. He has always seemed kind and levelheaded, but here he speaks very harshly of Hosna and denies her a funeral. This demonstrates the evolution of Mahjoub’s character over the course of the novel, from a young socialist to a conservative village elder, who uses misogynistic language and threatens the village women with violence when they try to honor Hosna with a funeral. It also illustrates a key difference between Mahjoub and the narrator. Despite Mahjoub’s political prowess, he is unable to accept real social change, whereas the narrator advocates for a truly liberal society, but is unable to act on his beliefs in an effective way. Together, the men represent opposite forms of hypocrisy. In this chapter, it becomes clear that their complementary skill sets come with drawbacks, and they can never work together to advance the country. The novel’s early hope for Sudanese leadership is now tempered by pessimism.