The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih.
The Wedding of Zein (عرس الزين) is a comic novella by Tayeb Salih, first published in 1962 and then in English in 1968. It's set in a small village just outside Wad Hamid in Sudan, on the Nile.
It tells the story of Zein who, when he was born, was born laughing rather than crying. In the looks department he is, shall we say, unfortunate with only one tooth, a long, bony face, and a neck so long it earned him the nickname 'giraffe'. He has no body hair, and frequently irritates the other villagers by eating all their food. But he is a good soul, and he finds himself very frequently falling in love with one girl or another, but the problem is not long after he falls in love the girl invariably goes on to quickly marry someone else: its so predictable in fact families encourage Zein to fall in love with their daughters to ensure a profitable marriage. This is why, then, the village were stunned with the news that he is to be married. The novella begins:
'Have you heart the news? Zein is hetting married,' said Haleema, the seller of milk, to Amna, who had as usual called before sunrise, as she measured out her a piastre's worth.
The jug all but fell from Amna's hands, and Haleema, profiting by her preoccupation, gave her short measure.
The news continues to spread like wildfire - a boy escapes punishment when he tells his headmaster, and he is stunned the boy escapes, and a man in debt even manages to put off payment for another day by telling a debt collector: everyone is stunned.
As we get to know Zein, though, it's not terribly surprising - he's a good sort who prefers the company of the outcasts of the village - the disabled, and former slaves. His wife to be, Ni'ma, is as we learn pretty eccentric herself.
It's a lovely story with gentle humour and it's a pleasure to read. Aside from being very funny, it's also an insight into Sudanese village life during this period which saw technological advancement and the introduction of modern and popular Islam, a new Sufism embodied by Zein, in contrast with the older Orthodox version. But despite this the village still comes together for the event of the wedding of Zein. It's a great novella, and I look forward to reading more by Tayeb Salih.