Season of Migration to the North

Season of Migration to the North Study Guide

Tayeb Salih published Season of Migration to the North in 1966, ten years after Sudan received its independence from the British empire on January 1, 1956. The novel is heavily influenced by the tumultuous politics of the period. The 1950s and 1960s saw many African countries achieve independence, some through bloody revolutions, and others through peaceful diplomacy. Initially there was much hope that Sudan would use the infrastructure developed by their European occupiers to turn their nations into prosperous, democratic havens for their long-oppressed citizens.

It was not long before these hopes were dashed. Negotiations for Sudanese independence had not addressed whether a federal or a unitary government would run the country. The ethnically separate southern part of Sudan favored a federal government, but the military regime in charge of the country immediately broke its promise to provide this, favoring instead a dictatorship run by northerners. Civil war broke out in 1955, even before the country had been officially granted independence. This bloody war would continue until 1972, and while the conflict is not explicitly addressed in Salih's novel, its shadow hangs over the villagers' stubborn hope for an efficient and democratic government.

Salih wrote Season of Migration to the North with an international audience in mind, and worked closely with his English translator, Denys Johnson-Davies, on translating bits and pieces of the novel before he even finished. Salih was equally fluent in English and Arabic, but felt obliged to write in Arabic as an expression of his national identity. The novel received critical acclaim across the globe upon its release, and has been translated into 30 languages.

The novel, along with Salih's other work (much of which remains untranslated) was popular as well among Arab audiences. However, it was banned in Sudan starting in 1989, although this was not because of the novel's politics but rather due to its graphic sexual content, which offended the Islamic government. However, it is now widely available in Salih's home country, and he is revered as a founding father of Sudanese literature.