When Al-Tayeb Salih emerged upon the literary scene in the early 1970s, he was received with an unprecedented aura. Salih's emergence in the literary life was, by itself, an unusual occurrence, simply because he was not introduced by an ideological or political movement that seeks to make of him its voice like what happened with Boris Pasternak when he published his novel Doctor Zhivago. Salih was also not one of the writers the reader was accustomed to see on newspaper and magazine pages. Equally, he was not that quantitative writer.
With these sound words that resonate with celebration, starts literary critic Dr. Yousif Noor Awad in his book entitled "Al-Tayeb Salih Novels From A Structural Analysis Perspective."
Awad borrows the Iraqi poetess Nazik al-Malayka's words that "Al-Tayeb Salih has come out from emptiness, from stillness", to describe Salih's showing on the literary scene because Salih's record in the literary life was "no more than the welcome dictated by his works and responded to by that 'collective willpower' spoken about by Jean-Jacques Rousseau", in his 'Social Contract.
Awad's four-chapter book is a literary study that starts with a chapter entitled "In Search of a Vision" in which the writer analyzes the dominant approaches in contemporary literary criticism and their shortcomings. He also explains the linguistic stylism that has taken its course in contemporary literary criticism via the modern linguistic thought. Here Awad concludes that structural analysis is the most comprehensive approach in literary criticism. Thus he takes it as a basis of studying Salih's novels.
Awad maintains that the literary value of Salih's works does not rest with his philosophical position from the clash of civilizations or cultures but, rather, from the technical methods he followed. According to Awad, Salih was not the first to have discussed these matters in his works but what characterizes him was his technical ability that drew attention to his works and projected him as a great writer who skipped the stages of natural development a writer has to pass through. He Adds: "Thus when we view Salih's works, we have to concentrate on his creative phenomenon in the first place, because such a concentration is sure to unveil the secret of his creative power as seen in the aesthetic and linguistic structures, or what I can call intellectual structures, through which Salih has formulated his social thoughts," asserts Awad.
The first thing Salih had done was the creation among his readers a methodical shock that triggered a lot of questions in them about the nature of technical buildup of his novels. Those questions were justified in that the methods Salih had followed in his writings were unprecedented in Arabic novel writing. Regardless, most critics were swayed from analyzing the technicality of his works to just concentrate on their content.
In the novel 'Nakhla Ala Aljadwal (Date Palm Tree On the Water Canal), Salih was well aware about the value of the motion picture effect in presenting technical images that give cinema films more effect on the minds and emotions of viewers. Salih had done this when he summed the intellectual content of the story by beginning with the expression 'Yaftah Allah! (God Help!) , an indication that his hero did not like the idea presented to him by his interlocutor. Salih had wanted to present a work of art in which he uses the scenography structure. His ability was demonstrated in adapting the aesthetic and objective structure in the work whose protagonist is a lay man.
About the (Domat Wad Hamid-The Dom Tree of Wad Hamid), Awad says that the reader cannot deny that this introduction does contain an integrated objective structure because the writer has said whatever can be said in an entire story. But can the writer call this a literary story? He can't, because a story does not rely only on the completion of its intellectual structure in the reader's mind.
In Urs Alzain (The Wedding of Zain), Salih had employed the wedding party as a background around which events revolve. The wedding party is sure not the most important event in the story. We should not think that there is a deceit in this where the writer had responded to the requirements of the technical fabric he had chosen which is the character-based novel. Salih has taken Zain just a background for the society of Wad Hamid at a certain period of time.
In the novel Moosim Alhijra Ela Alshamal (Season of Migration to the North), Salih has chosen the structure of the 'event novel'. But he did not adhere to such a novel's traditional style that commits to the narration of events in a historical sequence. Salih has used a collection of aesthetic colorations such as description, suspense, sex and smart historical and social flashbacks which he borrowed from the tactics of cinema and radio production beside some techniques that made of his work a set of living cells that interact with each other in a rich and beautiful manner.
The author, Dr. Awad, has researched Tayeb Salih's fiction from four directions: the direction of Sudanese literary criticism, the direction of Arab literary criticism, the direction of special criticism and the writer's self - assessment direction. Throughout these directions, Awad had strived to justify the structural analysis approach he had adopted.
Dr. Awad asserts that the critical studies presented by Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Alshoush were especially important in that he (Shoush) was very intimate to Salih by virtue of their being kin, had hailed from the same village, had been academic mates during their study in Britain and had shared close mental and social perceptions. All those factors had caused Shoush's criticism to be balanced and objective."By those definitions, Shoush is the best critic of Salih's works, so far," charges Dr. Awad.
Shoush had tried to tackle symbolism in the Wedding of Zain but did not travel in a barren desert as other critics had done. He, Shoush, has taken us from the start via a correct perception of the structure of literary work. He had first looked at the unusual stir that occurred in the village when news about Zain's marriage broke out that made of such an incident an unusual event in the village. Shoush's answer to this was that Salih "makes of these scattered particles a special atmosphere that excites the reader and attracts him to listen more after his curiosity had been raised."
Tayeb Salih was received with much attention from Arab critics, each tackling his works from his own angle. Those critics, maintains Dr. Awad, were much concerned with the content and thoughts presented by Salih's works which they, the critics, dubbed 'the crisis of the African human being, a case of clash of civilizations, cultures and nations and a struggle between good and evil.' These thoughts he, the author, maintains, had distracted those critics from the artistic value of Salih's works. "They, the Arab critics, were preoccupied with the theoretical aspects that distracted them from the structural buildup of Salih's works," he asserts.
In the third chapter Awad adopted classification of the novel's structures: the story of the event, the story of the character, the drama of the story, the story of the epoch, the historical story and the free story. The author used this classification as a yardstick for measuring Salih's novel structures. He also further applied this classification to five of Salih's novels, namely the Dom Tree of Wad Hamid, the Wedding of Zain, Season of Migration to the North, Bandar Shah, Dawwalbait and Maryood.
He drew the conclusion that "Al-Tayeb Salih had capped with this collection a cycle of his literary creation."
The book was published in 1983 by the al-Elm (knowledge) Library in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
"As we present this big work for a critic from Sudan who enriched the literary life with his works of criticism, we are well aware that we are presenting a new approach in modern Arab literary criticism in which Dr. Yousif Noor Awad is one of the early pioneers," wrote the publishers.