Season of Migration to the North

Season of Migration to the North Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9 and 10


The narrator switches from the past tense to the present. He says that his “adversary is within” (111), and that he is following Mustafa’s example. Furious with hatred and desire for revenge, he goes to Mustafa Sa’eed’s house and unlocks the private room. He lights a match and sees Mustafa Sa’eed, but it turns out to be the narrator’s reflection in a mirror. He sees that the room is lavishly furnished, with Persian rugs, walls of books, and an oil painting of Jean Morris. The narrator thinks that keeping these remnants of European life is not proper behavior for “a man who wanted to turn over a new leaf” (112). He sets fire to one of the carpets, but then thinks better of it and stamps it out.

The narrator looks at Mustafa’s books—mostly literature and economics texts, by English authors. He notices photographs of Sheila Greenwood, Isabella Seymour, and Ann Hammond, all of which have loving dedications to Mustafa written on them. The narrator thinks back to Mustafa’s story, recalling his idyllic memories of Sheila. We also learn that Isabella’s husband was a witness for the defense in Mustafa’s trial. He testified that she had been diagnosed with cancer before she committed suicide. The narrator recalls Mustafa’s story of meeting Ann Hammond. Mustafa had been giving a lecture about the poetry of Abu Nuwas, which he interpreted fancifully, with lots of fabricated information. Ann Hammond loves the lecture, and he buys her drinks and recites poetry for her. We also learn about a role-play that Mustafa would do with Ann Hammond, in which she pretended to be his “slave girl,” Sausan.

Next the narrator sees a picture of Mustafa with Mr. and Mrs. Robinson. He remembers Mrs. Robinson’s response to his letter, which he forgot about in the wake of the murder-suicide. Her letter had said that she pitied “Moozie,” and that she forgives him for the murder. She hopes that Hosna and the children will come to visit her on the Isle of Wight, and she is writing a memoir about her life in Cairo with Mr. Robinson and Mustafa. Mrs. Robinson is the executor of Mustafa’s affairs in London, and she has money that she wants the narrator to give to Hosna.

The narrator sees a newspaper from 1927. A long excerpt of the headlines from the newspaper follows, and the narrator wonders about its significance. He finds a notebook; its title page reads “My Life Story—by Mustafa Sa’eed” (125), but the rest of the pages are blank. There are many drawings of villagers in Mustafa’s drawer, which show great skill. The person he drew most was Wad Rayyes; there are eight portraits of him. Again, the narrator wonders about the reason for this.

Beneath the drawings, the narrator finds some attempts at poetry and fiction. One of the poems is unfinished, and the narrator finishes it by writing the last line. He finds more scraps of paper on which Mustafa Sa’eed had written fragments about his life. The narrator speculates that Mustafa hid these scraps for the narrator to find and piece together. He judges this as egotistical and conceited, and resolves to burn the private room at dawn.

At last, the narrator turns his attention to the portrait of Jean Morris. He remembers what Mustafa said about her in more detail than appeared in Chapter 2. Jean Morris cruelly rejected him, until he turned his attention away from her. One night, she showed up at Mustafa’s house and promised she would sleep with him if he gave her his possessions—a silk prayer mat, an antique manuscript, and a vase. One by one, she destroyed these items in front of Mustafa. When he tried to take her in his arms, she kicked him in the groin and left.

Eventually, Mustafa and Jean Morris married, and they would often get into violent fights. She would flirt with other men and insult Mustafa’s masculinity, even in public. One cold evening, while they are having sex, Mustafa gently plunges a dagger into Jean’s chest. She kisses it and accepts her murder with a kind of ecstasy, begging Mustafa to “come with me” (136).

The narrator decides that burning the private room will not do any good, and goes for a swim to help relieve his emotions. As he swims further and further into the Nile, he begins to feel himself drowning, and surrenders himself to that fate. However, he feels a sudden desire for a cigarette, and snaps out of his reverie, deciding that it is better to live. He reasons, “I shall live because there are a few people I want to stay with for the longest possible time and because I have duties to discharge” (139). He swims toward the shore and calls for help.


The last two chapters resolve many questions about Mustafa’s past. Through Mrs. Robinson’s letter, we finally hear directly from one of the important women in Mustafa’s life (even Hosna’s dialogue is mostly paraphrased by the narrator or Bint Majzoub). Mustafa’s early attraction to Mrs. Robinson influences his later relationships, and Salih borrows extensively from Freud’s theories about psychosexual development as he develops Mrs. Robinson’s character (Tarawneh and John, 331). She is a surrogate mother to Mustafa Sa’eed, and his great attraction to her (and indifference to his biological mother) foreshadows his turbulent relationships with English women. Mrs. Robinson’s indulgent sentiments toward “Moozie” evoke the English mistresses’ fascination with Mustafa as a representative of “Oriental” culture. He is simultaneously attracted to and resentful of this condescending attitude, and the fact that he experienced it as a child helps explain why.

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; knowing that he has excised parts of the story in Chapter 2 invites questioning about what else he has excised from the story. It also enhances the mystique of the private room. None of the memories that we read about in Chapter 9 are actually new to the narrator; he has known about them since he was a young man. The private room is really just an ornate study. By waiting until the end of the novel to reveal the story of Jean Morris’s murder, Salih endows the objects in the room with symbolism, and in doing so, confines Mustafa’s story to that room—allowing the narrator to lock the door and move on with his life.

The memories of Jean Morris deserve particular scrutiny. Mustafa repeatedly emphasizes that Jean controlled Mustafa by destroying his possessions when they fought. However, Mustafa also emphasizes that these possessions—the Arabic books, the incense, the pottery—were mainly bought to enhance his persona as a wild African man from the East, which he used to seduce women. The fact that Jean Morris destroys these props suggests that she was the only one of Mustafa’s lovers that related to him as a man, rather than as an African. Jean’s insults are directed to Mustafa’s masculinity; she does not talk much about his “Oriental” origins at all, especially compared to Ann, Sheila, and Isabella. This helps to explain why she arouses genuine violence and passion in Mustafa, and why he is unable to manipulate and discard her the way he did with the previous women.

At the beginning of Chapter 9, the narrator writes that “the adversary” is inside him, and he heads to Mustafa Sa’eed’s private room to obtain vengeance. This seems counterintuitive, since one would assume that any vengeance would be wrought on Mahjoub, whom the narrator tried to strangle at the end of the previous chapter. Instead, the narrator blames his violence on the influence of Mustafa Sa’eed, and goes to the private room in an attempt to exorcise Mustafa’s influence once and for all.

The narrator’s choice not to drown himself in the Nile is a curious one. Such a death would evoke Mustafa’s possible suicide, which the narrator characterizes as “a melodramatic act” earlier in the novel. Ultimately, the reasons that the narrator chooses to live are rather mundane—at first, he wants a cigarette, and then he decides that he wants to spend more time with the villagers and carry out his duties to Mustafa’s sons. This choice of a simple, village-oriented existence is the ultimate rejection of the melodrama and violence of Mustafa’s life. This choice is the narrator’s only alternative to allowing his “migration to the North” to consume him, just as it did Mustafa. It seems that he has finally found the “middle way” discussed on page 89.