FICTION

Bird Summons

Black Cat: Grove Atlantic. Feb. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780802149152. pap. $16. F
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Three Muslim Scottish women go on a pilgrimage to visit the estate and grave of Lady Evelyn Cobbald, a Scottish noblewoman who converted to Islam in the early 20th century. Each woman is facing a personal crisis, and the differences among their personalities and outlooks cause their relationship to fray over the week they spend in close quarters. The driven and domineering Salma, married to a Scottish convert and the mother of four, reconnects online with a suitor she rejected in Egypt as a young woman. Moni resists her husband’s pleas to join him in Saudi Arabia, favoring her all-consuming devotion to caring for her severely disabled son. Beautiful Iman has just been abandoned by her third husband. Strange occurrences in and around the cottage where they are staying force the women to confront their demons and choose the path forward.
VERDICT Incorporating elements of magical realism and tales from both the Quran and Anglo folk traditions, this latest from Aboulela (The Kindness of Enemies) is a strange mix of domestic realism and fantasy/allegory. The supernatural aspects start out subtly and almost unnoticeably but begin to take over in the book’s last third, which makes the conclusion a bit heavy-handed if intriguing.

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