Friday 10 May 2019

Review by Sally Shaw of "Thirteen Months of Sunrise" by Rania Mamoun, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

Thirteen Months Of Sunrise is the debut short story collection of Sudanese author, journalist and activist Rania Mamoun. The ten stories take the reader on a journey through Sudan, from the Nile Basin to Khartoum. 

Mamoun’s writing evokes the gentle courage of her Sudanese characters, and an awareness of their strength, humour and the difficulties they encounter, in their day-to-day lives. Her beautiful, simplistic, yet at times mesmerising writing is threaded through with powerful emotions. In "Passing," the emotions of loss and regret are explored at the end of a life: “I fall silent, unable to respond. Or perhaps it’s the disappointment flowing through his words that leaves me mute.” The story is beautifully told, and explores the extremes of life and death: “My nieces and nephews race in and out, delighted with their new clothes, Eid sweets never leaving their mouths. They rush up to me, all abuzz.” This is a story that readers from all around the world will understand and form a bond with.

Humour, tension, apprehension among the passengers on a bus to Khartoum are all apparent in "Cities And Other Cities"; by the end of the journey, one passenger makes a discovery and forms an unusual if brief friendship. The simple beginning to this story has both a comic and profound meaning, and the reader too wants to take a seat on this bus: “At that point something evil awoke inside me: anger, hatred, the desire to kill. I slapped the fly as hard as I could, but it backfired and I hit myself square in the face. The fly slowly zig-zagged away before dropping from the air. I leant forward and took a long, hard look at it. I started to feel bad for the fly, especially as I’d also been caught in the crossfire. I thought it was dead, so scolded myself for killing it, and felt even worse.” By the end of the bus journey, the reader will have experienced the sights, sounds, and cultures of fellow travellers as the story arrives at its final destination.

The beautifully told "One-Room Sorrows" conveys, in a few words, the emotion of heartbreak and then, with a twist, a mother’s uncertainty. "Stray Steps" is a modern, real-life fairy-tale of wonder and hope in a world that at first glance appears desolate and cruel: “I don’t care what they do with my body, they don’t have much desire for it anyway.” At times, this story is almost too grim but then a spark of light - one of Mamoun's skills as a writer -  encourages the reader to continue to the end, and be rewarded for persevering.

The collection is at times difficult to read, as it requires the reader to pause and consider the meanings. But the reward for reading this collection of ten stories is in meeting new people living in a country that holds stories that need to be told. Above all, the stories demonstrate  how similar we all are. 

About the reviewer
Sally Shaw is a full-time MA Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester. She writes short stories and poetry. She gains inspiration from old photographs, history, and she is inspired by writers Sandra Cisneros and Liz Berry. Her short prose piece, 'A School Photograph,' has been published online by NewMag, and her story 'Cherry Scones' was published online by Ink Pantry. She worked as a nurse for 33 years and lives in North Warwickshire with her partner, three pekin bantams and Bob the dog.   

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