Jamal Mahjoub was born in London in 1960. After living in Liverpool for several years, the family moved to , his father’s home country. Mahjoub attended Comboni College, run by Italian priests. He subsequently received a grant from Atlantic College in , and continued his studies in geology at the university of Sheffield. While still a student he began publishing his literary texts in magazines. After several changes of location, northern Europe eventually became his home base – yet his African roots still play a central role in his books. They incorporate stories and history, science and superstition and at the same time discuss the living conditions in which people from different backgrounds live together or in close proximity with each other.
»In the Hour of Signs« (1996) tells the story of the British conquest of at the end of the 19th century. The book transforms both protagonists of the conflict, the Muslim leader Mohammed Ahmed, called Mahdi, and the English General Gordon into symbolic figures. The main characters are farmers, shepherds or simple soldiers, and the uprising is described from their perspective as country dwellers or representatives of the colonial power. Mahjoub’s historical novel »The Carrier« (1998) deals with one of the pivotal moments in European thought: the development of the telescope and the corresponding astronomical methods of calculation, which paved the way for the heliocentric view of the world and the separation of science and religion. Mahjoub described his motivation: »I was fascinated by the question of why such a significant change in thought as marked by the Renaissance in Europe, didn’t occur in the Islamic world.« The young scholar Rashid al-Kenzy, son of a Nubian slave and falsely accused of murder, is reprieved by the dey of Algiers on condition that Rashid procure him the optical device, of whose capabilities people tell the most wondrous tales – and thus Rashid sets out on a long journey. In 2006 Majoub published his novel »Nubian Indigo«, whose story is set during the construction of the Aswan High Dam. »The Drift Latitudes« (2007) has present-day London as its setting. A successful architect, daughter of an immigrant from Trinidad and a German father whom she can hardly remember, receives several letters from her half-sister in , which cause her to begin to deal with her background.
The author has been awarded the Prix d’Astrobale for the novel »Travelling with Djinns« (2003) and the Guardian/Heinemann African Short Story Prize. After spending many years in the Danish city of Aarhus, Mahjoub is now living in Barcelona.
© international literature festival berlin