During the spring 2019 sit-in in front of the Sudanese Army headquarters in Khartoum, one of the protesters’ tents was nicknamed “The Jungo.” This, says translator Adil Babikir, was a tribute to the novel of the same name by exiled Sudanese writer Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin.
Sakin has been living in Austria since 2012, and his books were banned in Sudan from that year until former president Omar al-Bashir’s ouster in 2019. Yet his stories have remained in wide circulation. Despite the seven-year ban on his work, Sakin is still one of Sudan’s most popular novelists.
His books have won praise both in Arabic and in translation. Most recently, Sakin won the 2020 Prix de la Littérature Arabe for Xavier Luffin’s French translation of The Jungo.
But Sakin’s path to literary acclaim was not direct.
The author grew up in eastern Sudan, and although he knew early on that he wanted to be a writer, he went to Egypt to study business. While a student in the late 1980s, he published one of his plays, yet he did not pursue a career in theater. Instead, Sakin went to work with Unicef and Save the Children, and he also taught English to refugees in eastern Sudan.
It wasn’t until 2000, in his late 30s, that Sakin began publishing novels and short stories, and he has published steadily ever since. In the past two decades, Sakin has brought out more than a dozen novels, as well as several short-story collections and books for children.
After 2000, “he quickly established himself as the voice of the margins,” Adil Babikir said over email. “And he became one of the most widely read novelists in Sudan.”
Praised, and Censored
Sakin was also quickly established as a threat to the ruling regime. His first collection of short stories, originally published in Cairo in 2002, was re-published by the Sudanese Ministry of Culture in 2005. But that year, it was also confiscated and banned by the same ministry.
When The Jungo was published in 2009, it was a favorite of Sakin’s fellow writers, and the novel won the 2010 Tayeb Salih Prize at the Khartoum Book Fair. But, also in 2010, The Jungo was confiscated by the Bashir regime. Sakin adds that copies were torched in what he called the country’s first-ever book burning.