...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.