Ghost Season

Norton. Jan. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781324001744. $28.95. F
DEBUT The Second Sudanese Civil War forms the backdrop for this disturbing debut novel from Fatin Abbas, soon to be a professor of creative writing at MIT. Five disparate characters meet on an NGO compound in Saraaya, a village uneasily straddling north and south. Naïve, unprepared American surveyor Alex is remapping the area to reflect changes in grazing and agricultural landscapes, a result of global warming. William, a multilingual member of the southern Nilote tribe, serves as guide and translator, while Layla, from an impoverished family of northern nomads, cooks for the group and mothers 11-year-old Mustafa, a clever, ambitious factotum. Prickly Sudanese American filmmaker Dena completes this motley crew, each searching for fulfillment in one of the most volatile areas on the continent. As Alex impatiently awaits permits, this pseudo family bonds over shared meals, learning bits of each other’s languages and accepting differences. The burgeoning love between Layla and Matthew creates an atmosphere of joy that the author tempers with the discovery of a burned corpse near the compound, a harbinger of looming disaster.
VERDICT Hopeful and despairing in equal measure, Abbas takes readers on an emotional roller coaster, employing her protagonists as metaphor for Sudan’s possibilities if it was not mired in poverty, hunger, and tribal rivalries. A propulsive read; highly recommended.
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