The narrator in Kindness of Enemies is an ambitious young scholar named Natasha Wilson — born in Khartoum as Natasha Hussein to a Russian mother and a Sudanese father. Natasha is an academic working at a Scottish university, her special area of study being the 19th-century Caucasian War. It is this same war that saw a fierce Muslim resistance to the Russian invasion of Dagestan, Chechnya and Circassia.
Natasha has come to meet an Iraqi-born actress Malak with an intention to examine an Ottoman sword that’s been in Malak’s family for generations. Malak happens to be Oz’s mother and Oz as Natasha discovers, is in possessesion of an extraordinary heirloom–the sword of Imam Shamil, one of the great leaders of the forces of resistance.
Shamil himself is portrayed convincingly as a devout muslim besides being a noble fighter for freedom.
Shamil’s understanding of Jihad, as we come to learn, was very different from that of today’s Islamist fanatics.
In this book, Aboulela succeeds in giving us a fuller and better understanding of Islam and of the different interpretations of the religion in different parts of the Muslim world.
It is also remarkable that when Shamil was defeated and surrendered, he was treated decently by the Tsar. A dignity suited to his rank (as Imam) that met him at his fall. Leila seeks to show us that to some extent, the 19th century was more civilized than our present time.
The author maps the interconnectedness of the world on both personal and political levels which in a way is reflective of her well-travelled life. Abouela was born in Egypt, raised in Sudan, studied in England and currently lives in Scotland.
The Kindness of Enemies is both an engrossing story of a provocative period in history and an important examination of what it is to be a Muslim in a post-9/11 world. The story that unfolds here will take us around the world and back centuries.
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