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Leila Aboulela, hailed as “a versatile prose stylist” (New York Times) has also been praised by J.M. Coetzee, Ali Smith, and Ben Okri, among others, for her rich and nuanced novels depicting Islamic spiritual and political life. Her new novel is an enchanting narrative of the years leading up to the British conquest of Sudan in 1898, and a deeply human look at the tensions between Britain and Sudan, Christianity and Islam, colonizer and colonized. In River Spirit, Aboulela gives us the unforgettable story of a people who—against the odds and for a brief time—gained independence from foreign rule through their willpower, subterfuge, and sacrifice.

When Akuany and her brother Bol are orphaned in a village raid in South Sudan, they’re taken in by a young merchant Yaseen who promises to care for them, a vow that tethers him to Akuany through their adulthood. As a revolutionary leader rises to power – the self-proclaimed Mahdi, prophesied redeemer of Islam – Sudan begins to slip from the grasp of Ottoman rule, and everyone must choose a side. A scholar of the Qur’an, Yaseen feels beholden to stand against this false Mahdi, even as his choice splinters his family. Meanwhile, Akuany moves through her young adulthood and across the country alone, sold and traded from house to house, with Yaseen as her inconsistent lifeline. Everything each of them is striving for – love, freedom, safety – is all on the line in the fight for Sudan.

Through the voices of seven men and women whose fates grow inextricably linked, Aboulela’s latest novel illuminates a fraught and bloody reckoning with the history of a people caught in the crosshairs of imperialism. River Spirit is a powerful tale of corruption, coming of age, and unshakeable devotion – to a cause, to one’s faith, and to the people who become family.

“A novel of extraordinary sympathy and insight… a wonderful achievement.”—Abdulrazak Gurnah, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 

“In rich, evocative detail, Aboulela captures one of the most important moments in Sudanese history. But ultimately, this is a story about people. Everyone—from Akuany to Yaseen to Musa to Fatima to Robert—reminded me of the hearts and minds affected by the winds of imperialism. You must read this.”—Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of Wench and Take My Hand

“Leila Aboulela weaves together strands of Sudan’s history in this fascinating and unforgettable tale. By far my favourite of all her works, Aboulela employs elegant, poetic prose to create yet another masterpiece.  This is a story that demands to be read.  It is an excellent novel.”—Goretti Kyomuhendo, author of Waiting

“Painted with the words of an artist who loves and understands their subject, this novel is a historical portrait of freedom. Aboulela skillfully draws the uncertain colours of what freedom means to different individuals in a Mahdist Sudan to the last full stop.”—Zukiswa Wannerauthor of The Madams

“In River Spirit, Aboulela’s writing soars. It is urgent and it is critical. She joins writers like Maaza Mengiste, Namwali Serpell and Ayesha Haruna Atta in excavating history, breathing life into it, and presenting it in a new light. It is so far my best read this year.”—Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, author of A Girl is a Body of Water

“River Spirit had me gripped from the first page. This is real history, imagined in splendid detail, a story of ordinary people caught in extraordinary times. The characters’ interwoven narratives create a book shaped into twists and turns all the way to its thrilling end. River Spirit is a triumph of storytelling.”Aminatta Forna, author of The Memory of Love