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Väldigt Sällan Fin Sami Said, Väldigt Sällan Fin (Very Rarely Fine)

Natur och Kultur,  2012.

Reviewed by B.J. Epstein in SBR 2013:1

Review Section: Fiction

Noha is just starting university in Sweden, and his family and their community send him off with a multitude of warnings: do not mix with non-Muslims; beware of women; do not get tempted; do not listen to music or drink alcohol;  remember who you are; remember where you belong.

So Noha focuses on his studies and tries to avoid Swedes and Swedish culture. But despite his attempts to remain a loner, two people will not leave him alone. First Fredrik, who plans to convert to Islam and forces himself onto Noha, always wanting to talk about what it means to be Muslim. Fredrik soon changes his name – to ‘Abdul-something’,as Noha drily puts it – and becomes even stricter than Noha. Meanwhile, Anna turns up, a young woman Noha meets on a train and cannot shake off. Anna tries to introduce him to music, social life and to love. Noha, stubbornly or perhaps innocently, fails to realise that Anna is falling for him and pays little attention to Abdul-something’s anxious counsel that he should stop spending time with her. And all Noha really wants is to learn about Eritrea, the homeland he left as a child, to feel part of Eritrea’s history and culture, and so find his place in the world.

While Noha is being pulled in two distinctly different directions by people he never wanted in his life, his grandfather dies. In the second half of the novel, he travels to Eritrea with his father and brother, and is obliged to come to terms with himself at last. He has to figure out whether he is Eritrean or Swedish or  some combination thereof, what sort of Muslim he is, and what he wants from his life. But the reader is left wondering  if Noha really does learn about himself, and where all his cautious studies and shy inactions actually get him.

Said writes in a poetic style that both reflects Noha’s situation and also obscures  what the protagonist is truly thinking and feeling from the reader. There are moments of comedy, such as when Noha is beginning to socialise with Swedes, but for the most part, the novel is sad, and serious, showing how challenging it is to be caught between two – or more – worlds. 

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