• Great Beginnings: Season of Migration to the North

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 14 comments

    season of migration to the northIt’s been too long since we’ve gotten our Great Beginnings groove on. We writers place a lot of pressure on ourselves to write a killer opening line, a killer opening paragraph, a killer opening page. Sometimes too much pressure! So much pressure that it can color our pleasure reading and numb our appreciation for truly great beginnings. That’s part of why I’d like to resuscitate this series and make it a regular feature — many of us could use such a reminder. Consider it a mini book club.

    This week I want to take a peek at the first three lines of Tayeb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North, first published in Arabic in 1967, translated into English by Denys Johnson-Davies in 1969, reissued by NYRB Classics in 2009, and read, with delight, by me in the first few days of this new year.

    First the lines from Season of Migration to the North, and then some discussion questions:

    It was, gentlemen, after a long absence — seven years to be exact, during which time I was studying in Europe — that I returned to my people. I learnt much and much passed me by — but that’s another story. The important thing is that I returned with a great yearning for my people in that small village at the bend of the Nile.

    So, does this make you want to read further? Why or why not? What are some of the key words in these lines? What do we learn here, and what questions does this passage bring to mind? Let us know in the comments below.


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    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.


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    Betty G.

    I like it. I would read on, maybe to find out who the
    Gentlemen are, and to find out why he went from Egypt
    to Europe for seven years and came back.

    Yi Shun Lai

    Ooh, I like this great beginning series. This is an easy one for me: I’m drawn to the direct address. “Gentlemen.” This kind of beginning is so evocative: the reader immediately feels a part of the story; the bar for intimacy is set. And then, the sly layering of information. Crafty!


    agreed on “gentleman.” Also, where is he? In court? It’s impossible to tell if he’s back in Egypt now or in Europe or anywhere. He doesn’t say “back here in my village” or “I studied seven years here in Europe.” No place, no time. It’s interesting and I would read more. It’s worth a look?




    Ug. Nothing, I was going to say. Yeah, I’d read this one, Sudan or The Sudan, regardless. I like a tight(?) read. I was going to read that novel A Little Life, or whatever, but I kinda just keep staring at it.

    Justine Duhr

    For me, the hook is “but that’s another story.” Who is this narrator with so many stories to tell? Will I eventually hear this other story? Of course, the seemingly innocent mention of it makes me want to. What he is telling me by not telling me? I’m intrigued!


    Beauty! Yes, I can see why, from just this opening, why this was a favorite for you. There is an international, expansive, ambiance to it that is so appealing. The idea that the author, after some time in elevated studies, wanted to return to his roots (“at the bend of the Nile”) is very much a sympathetic emotion for a lot of people. I can feel it. And the words that evoke the attitude of a global traveler: “studying in Europe…returned to my people…small village at the bend of the Nile.” These can only pull the fervor for travel that… Read more »

    […] books towards my reading resolution. Coming up in March: some Walker Percy, hopefully another Tayeb Salih, maybe some Eileen Chang, and a book I have to […]

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