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The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

The Map of Love (1999)

by Ahdaf Soueif

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1,314305,924 (3.68)72
  1. 00
    The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (jennybhatt)
    jennybhatt: Each book re-tells the same story with the same characters, essentially, but from entirely different points of view so that you never feel like you're reading the same book again. The 4th book is set in Corfu and 6 years later.
  2. 00
    The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz (jennybhatt)
    jennybhatt: Also set in Egypt and gets deep into the historical events of the time and their socio-cultural impacts. Beautifully-told by a Nobel Literature winner,

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Compelling and complex, this book turned out to be somewhat different from what I had expected. Isabel, a young American woman, is given her English great-grandmother's trunk, containing her diaries and mementos from her travels in Egypt, where she fell in love and married. Isabel travels to Egypt herself to connect with her heritage and discover her family's history. I expected the love story to be central to the book, and while it plays a big part, the book offers a great deal of political analysis of colonial and modern-day Egypt. The narrative shifts between 1st and 3rd person, past and present, several narrators, as well as diary entries and letters - this should be confusing, but I didn't find it so. The result is a beautifully written, vibrant and utterly fascinating novel which should be read and savoured slowly. This is not a quick and easy read, but a very rewarding one. ( )
1 vote SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
Family saga, but in the form of a family history being uncovered/researched by descendants come together.

Widowed Englishwoman comes to Egypt, 'goes native', and falls in love, not necessarily in that order. A startlingly happy marriage ensues - life isn't without its ups and downs, but culture clash doesn't much dent the relationship. In the present day, American woman falls in love, comes to Egypt, and gets to know the sister of her True Love as they together get to know what turns out to be their mutual ancestor. ( )
  zeborah | Jan 10, 2015 |
It started out with some promise but ultimately was very dissapointing. Although the blurb says it is about Isabel and learning about her great-grandmother, Anna, it is really about Amal. Which is good because Isabel is a really annoying character. Her obessions with Amal's brother Omar borders on the crazy side. I like more of Amal's immersion in Anna's life but really, it is mainly about Anna. With a huge dollop of Egyptian history that I know so little about and a large number of names and phrases in Arabic that went completely over my head. I really don't see what people rave out with this one, rather a snoozer.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Unfortunately I read The Map of Love in two parts, separated by 5 weeks of travel, which caused the book to feel a bit disconnected for me. However, even taking that into account I cannot say that I loved this book. I enjoyed parts of it and overall it is well-written and well-constructed, but I found it overly long and tedious in places.

The plot jumps back and forth in time and between narrators, telling the story of an English woman who travels to Egypt at the turn of the 20th century and falls in love with an Egyptian man, and the story of an American woman at the turn of the 21st century who falls in love with an Egyptian man. The switches between time and narrator were a little difficult to follow, especially at the beginning, but I did get used to it. The contemporary part is narrated by the sister of the Egyptian man, and I actually felt that it was more about her than about the lovers. However, the primary story definitely seemed to be the earlier one, about the English woman at the turn of the 20th century.

The book went pretty deep into the politics of Eygpt in both times, and knowing almost nothing about it I certainly learned something. However, it got a little preachy at times and it was difficult to keep track of all the various minor characters and mentioned names who were involved. There were sections that got rather tedious.

Overall, it felt like the author was trying a little too hard to create a piece of "literature" with grand deeper meaning. However, I did enjoy the story and I thought the ending was very nicely done and poignant. I cannot give the book a strong recommendation but I do not dis-recommend it either. ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
rats!! the dreaded 3-star catch-all. :(

the thing i am happiest about, concerning the read of this novel, is the curiosity it has created in me to seek out excellent nonfiction books about egypt, israel and turkey. i do try to stay current with regard to world issues and events, but it's been at least 20 years since i last read purposefully about these countries/this region, in an attempt to gain an understanding of these countries, their histories and challenges. so this is a good thing and i hope to discover some great reads.

the novel itself, though, was fairly clunky to me. while i felt the use of letters and journal entries very good and effective, the parts outside of these forms didn't flow very well and it was a bumpy reading experience. i felt that, when soueif went into sections of political and social commentary, i was being lectured and that jarred me out of her fictional world. i kept comparing this book to john steinbeck's [b:The Grapes of Wrath|4395|The Grapes of Wrath|John Steinbeck|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1352912927s/4395.jpg|2931549], which i read for the first time recently. he also employs plot devices to address social and political issues, but with his novel, it felt more natural and informative and helpful. which is weird. because his strategy took us outside of the action of the novel, into these almost stand-alone chapters. whereas souief incorporated her messages, usually, into dialogue and discussions among her characters. but it didn't feel natural to me. so, i don't know that it was fair of me to contrast this novel with a steinbeck book...but i really couldn't stop my brain from going there.

oh, one other point of interest - this novel was written in 1999. the novel is split into 2 different times - the very early 1900s and the 1990s. topics and issues going on in the novel and being struggled with are issues that are very current and relevant to the issues going on NOW in egypt, israel, palestine and turkey. it's a sad, sad thing and certainly reinforces that feeling of helplessness as a reader sitting safely in canada.

i am very glad i read this novel and i will seek out more works by soueif. i just didn't love this one the way i had hoped. which is too bad. ( )
  Booktrovert | Sep 20, 2013 |
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It is strange that this period [1900-1914] when the Colonialists and their collaborators thought everything was quiet - was one of the most fertile in Egypt's history. A great examination of the self took place, and a great recharging of energy in preparation for a new Renaissance.
-- Gamal 'Abd el-Nasser The Covenant 1962
Even God cannot change the past.
-- Agathon (447-401 BC)
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- and there, on the table under her bedroom window, lies the voice that has set her dreaming again.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385720114, Paperback)

Ahdaf Soueif's The Map of Love is a massive family saga, a story that draws its readers into two moments in the complex, troubled history of modern Egypt. The story begins in 1977 in New York. There Isabel Parkman discovers an old trunk full of documents--some in English, some in Arabic--in her dying mother's apartment. Incapable of deciphering this stash by herself, she turns to Omar al-Ghamrawi, a man with whom she is falling in love. And Omar directs her in turn to his sister Amal in Cairo.

Together the two women begin to uncover the stories embedded in the journal of Lady Anna Winterbourne, who traveled to Egypt in 1900 and fell in love with Sharif Pasha al-Barudi, an Egyptian nationalist. To their surprise, they stumble across some unsuspected connections between their own families. Less surprising, perhaps, is the persistence of the very same issues that dogged their ancestors: colonialism, Egyptian nationalism, and the clash of cultures throughout the Middle East. The past, however, does offer some semblance of omniscience:

That is the beauty of the past; there it lies on the table: journals, pictures, a candle-glass, a few books of history. You leave it and come back to it and it waits for you--unchanged. You can turn back the pages, look again at the beginning. You can leaf forward and know the end. And you tell the story that they, the people who lived it, could only tell in part.
With its multiple narratives and ever-shifting perspectives, The Map of Love would seem to cast some doubt on even the most confident historian's version of events. Yet this subtle and reflective tale of love does suggest that the relations between individuals can (sometimes) make a difference. "I am in an English autumn in 1897," Amal confesses at one point, "and Anna's troubled heart lies open before me." Here, perhaps, is a hint about how we should read Soueif's staggering novel, using words as a means to travel through time, space, and identity. --Vicky Lebeau

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:49 -0400)

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With her first novel, In the Eye of the Sun, Ahdaf Soueif garnered comparisons to Tolstoy, Flaubert, and George Eliot. In her latest novel, which was shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, she combines the romantic skill of the nineteenth-century novelists with a very modern sense of culture and politics--both sexual and international. At either end of the twentieth century, two women fall in love with men outside their familiar worlds. In 1901, Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, leaves England for Egypt, an outpost of the Empire roiling with nationalist sentiment. Far from the comfort of the British colony, she finds herself enraptured by the real Egypt and in love with Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi. Nearly a hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist and descendant of Anna and Sharif has fallen in love with Omar al-Ghamrawi, a gifted and difficult Egyptian-American conductor with his own passionate politics. In an attempt to understand her conflicting emotions and to discover the truth behind her heritage, Isabel, too, travels to Egypt, and enlists Omar's sister's help in unravelling the story of Anna and Sharif's love.… (more)

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