...elegant ... In a skillful blending of Eastern and Western literary tradition, Aboulela’s characters are visited by the Hoopoe, a sacred bird that symbolizes wisdom and filial piety ... The novel possesses all the pleasures we’ve come to expect from Aboulela, the author of Lyrics Alley and The Translator: psychological acuity, rich characterization, intricate emotional plotting. And prose that is clear, lovely and resonant as a ringing bell ... But this book is also the mark of an author refreshing herself aesthetically, as Aboulela introduces a fantastical golden thread into realism’s tight weave, to magical effect ... a thrilling, soulful adventure.
The spiritual journey trope is engagingly executed ... Once again, [Aboulela's] ability to sensitively capture the inner-outer lives of Muslim immigrant women in Scotland shines ... Each well-developed plot line deepens characterization, while Aboulela’s interweaving of Muslim and Celtic fables via the sacred hoopoe bird, adds another dimension to the story and offers a sense of connection between the two traditions and the past and present.
... in such cases the author is always taking a risk, moving from one register to another. Leila Aboulela just brings it off, nevertheless leaving one with the suspicion that this novel might have been more satisfying if she had dispensed with the Hoopoe ... The lives of all three women are thoroughly imagined, and ring convincingly true ... Like, I would guess, a good many readers of this novel, I knew nothing of Lady Evelyn and am pleased and interested to learn about her ... By putting Slama, Moni and Iman into a situation where they are invited, insensibly, to consider how they are living, to assess their strengths and weaknesses and to determine how they should lead their lives from now on, Aboulela is doing much the same thing as Jane Austen did when she brought her heroines to the point of examining their feelings honestly and so realising who they should marry and on what terms. Aboulela does this very well, and always (which is just as important) interestingly ... Whether the hoopoe’s role in this delights you or seems a piece of tiresome whimsy is a matter of taste. Even if you find the hoopoe a piece of self-indulgence on the part of the author, you can skip these passages, and you will still have a very good novel.
Aboulela, who’s been nominated three times for the Orange Prize, excels at writing the interior lives of women and exploring their Muslim faith, and she brings those qualities to bear here. Unfortunately, she introduces a thread of magic realism that winds up snarling the plot ... Bird Summons offers plenty of Aboulela’s lyrical writing and empathy ... it’s impossible not to root for her trio, or for a novel that comes with realizations like this: 'Perhaps that’s what counted at the end, the actions one considered small and casual, not the big ones carried on the peg of self-righteousness.'
Aboulela’s prose is restrained but warm. There is a calm amusement in her tone when the women mock the overly conservative men in their lives ... For western readers, Aboulela offers rare and precious insight into the minds of women who believe that husbands should be obeyed ... The characters are well drawn, Moni in particular. However, the author’s talents are sadly undermined by the arrival of a bird who speaks in parables, and the book descends into an extended fantastical sequence that pays tribute to magic realism but lacks the scaffolding to pull it off. The overlapping of Muslim and Celtic myths shows ambition, but the bird’s extended moralising and the cursory way in which Lady Evelyn’s story is treated frustrate the quest for deeper meaning.
Incorporating elements of magical realism and tales from both the Quran and Anglo folk traditions, this latest from Aboulela is a strange mix of domestic realism and fantasy/allegory. The supernatural aspects start out subtly and almost unnoticeably but begin to take over in the book’s last third, which makes the conclusion a bit heavy-handed if intriguing.
... impressive ... There’s a not-entirely-successful vein of magical realism, but readers will root for Aboulela’s well-drawn cast as they reconcile their desires with their faiths and the obligations of their everyday lives. Aboulela’s novel is empathetic and insightful, offering a nuanced representation of the three characters through a blend of Islamic faith and Scottish folklore.
... weaves together elements of the traditional pilgrimage narrative with a realistic account of the challenges of contemporary life, creating a fascinating if not entirely successful amalgamation in which characters worry about cellphone service in one scene and are visited by a magical bird in the next ... This crescendo drags on for too long, however, nearly completely subsuming the interesting narratives of the women’s real lives that Aboulela has so carefully constructed. The symbolism of the visions is blatant and moralistic, and readers may well find themselves impatient to surface from this world and witness the women return from holiday utterly transformed — or at least somewhat changed ... While the narrative does lead where it promised — to Lady Evelyn’s grave — the bloated dream sequence permanently distances readers from the heart of the novel: the day-to-day lives and struggles of three dynamic women.
Aboulela’s exploration of the women’s problems of choice, faith, and commitment are as immersive as ever, but her dreamscapes, while imaginative and disconcerting, seem to sit oddly, at one didactic remove from the story ... Split between two different narrative modes, Aboulela’s latest is both engaging and perplexing.