The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela weaves two interlocking stories set approximately 150 years apart. Beginning in Scotland in 2010, one story is of Natasha Wilson (aka Hussein), a professor of mixed Sudanese and Russian heritage, torn between her two cultures and trying to define her place in the world. The second story is of Imam Shamil, a Muslim leader and member of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, who lead the resistance to Russian occupation of the Caucasus in the mid-1800s. The thread that connects both stories is Wilson’s research on Imam Shamil and her discovery that one of his descendents is a student in her class.
Aboulela skillfully weaves in and out of both narratives, taking the reader along with her at a breathtaking pace. There are twists and turns in the narrative, some of which are predictable. For me the value of the novel lies in its realistic portrayal of characters struggling to live according to their convictions and their subsequent disparagement by those who perceive reality through a different set of lenses.
Aboulela reminds us the issue of truth and justice is seldom a simple question of either this way or that. Instead, it frequently straddles between the two paths and one has only to use a different set of lenses to begin to see the possible merit of an opponent's point of view.
The novel is well written, moves at a rapid pace, and sheds light on the challenges facing Muslims post 9/11.