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The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
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The Map of Love (1999)

by Ahdaf Soueif

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1,393338,514 (3.69)83
  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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The Map of Love By Adaf Soueif

Beautifully written love story set against both contemporary Egypt and the early 20th century tumultuous British occupation. There is much detail about Egyptian history and the culture of the Arabic society, related in letters and dialogue. While it might be advantageous to have a background in this era, the broad outline is apparent and accessible.

At the heart is a family history and a love story, the intertwining of two cultures- the lovely British Lady Anna and the upperclass Egyptian lawyer Sharif Basha al-Baroudi who can only converse together in French.

The beautifully described scenery, the family home, the color and feel of the women's silk gowns were vivid. Indeed, when Amal writes, after reading Lady Anna's 1901 journal entry about her betrothal . . .

"Looking up from Anna’s journal I am, for a moment, surprised to find myself in my own bedroom, her trunk standing neatly by the wall, my bed, the top sheet folded back, waiting for me to ease myself in. I had been so utterly in that scene, in the hall of the old house, in my great-grandmother’s haramlek. My heart had beaten in time with Anna’s ..."

- I felt exactly how she felt, so immersed was I in the story. The events that affect this family had deep roots that continue to be felt in this troubled region of the world today.
( )
  estelle.siener | Aug 25, 2019 |
Last fall my wife read about the BBC/Fox production of Taboo starring Tom Hardy and an amazing supporting cast. What could possibly fail? Well, we waited for all the episodes to air and having recorded them sat to binge. Along the way I noticed Guardian headlines bemoaning the show. My best friend who doesn't believe in dvr dismissed the show as macho mumblecore. Still, I harbored hope. What an utter waste Taboo proved.

So I went to Cincinnati the other day to buy books. I found a nice copy and looked forward to settling down with what had been described by a GR friend as (A.S. Byatt's) Possession in Egypt. The weather turned really cold yesterday and I thought why not? Well, 516 pages later, I do not understand the parallel. There are two story lines, almost a century apart. There are journals and letters. The troubled travails of Egypt are explored through the casual racism of the British Occupation and the contemporary (circa 1999) fears of US/Israeli hegemony in the region. Most of this is approached obliquely, though the resistance to Mubarak is balanced with fears of the jihadi. There are mirrored situations where love conquers all and I felt my chest ache from repetitive sighing. This wasn't for me. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
“So. Tell me. What do you think? Which is better? To take action and perhaps make a fatal mistake - or to take no action and die slowly anyway?”

This novel centres on three women of three differing nationalities, Egyptian, American, English, one of whom lived nearly a century earlier than the other two. An American woman arrives in Cairo looking for someone to interpret the contents of a trunk that she has inherited. Once there she is befriended by an Egyptian woman who agrees to helps her with the task.

The lives of the women are not portrayed in a linear fashion, rather the author reveals each of them piecemeal meaning that the reader discovers the characters and their stories in a way that is akin to how they might unpack the contents of the trunk that is at the heart of the book. Thus the three intersecting stories are revealed to the reader at much the same pace as they are to the characters themselves. This did, however, also mean that it took me a few chapters to realise who was actually telling the story. The family tree at the front of the book was a big help here.

In 1997 American Isabel Parkman, discovers amongst her mother's belongings a trunk and meets and falls in love with, Omar al-Ghamrawi, a famous Egyptian conductor who is known not only for his musical ability but also for his espousal of the Arab cause. As Isabel starts going through the contents of the trunk she realises that, unbeknown to her,she has Egyptian ancestry. Her English great-grandmother, Anna Winterbourne,had married Egyptian, Sharif el-Baroudi, in 1901. On telling Omar about the trunk he suggests that she should take it to Cairo and show it to his sister, Amal, in the hope that she might help translate the Arabic portion of the journals.

Amal immerses herself in Anna's story and in particular the love affair between Anna and the Egyptian nationalist leader who became her husband. Widowed Anna travelled to Egypt in 1900 after her husband's death. Once there she comes to dislike the insular lives of most of the colonial Britons that she meets there. Unlike most of her country men and women she wants to learn the language and about the indigenous people. She wants to experience a side of Egypt that the colonials ignore and one day disguised as a man in order to see the beauties of the Sinai Desert, she and her guide are captured by young nationalists. Her captives are appalled when they learn of her true identity and in their panic hand her over in to the care of the sister of an influential Egyptian lawyer, the man who will come her future husband.

As the two women's' friendship grows so does Anna's doubts about the British occupation of the country, gradually seeing her own nation's presence as being deeply malign as Egypt strives to free itself from the auspices of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. The longer Anna spends in the country the more sympathetic she becomes towards the Egyptians' cause. Nor do the repercussions of British rule end there. Nearly one hundred years on the legacies of British occupation continue to affect Amal's generation.

Although Britain's influence in Egypt has an important role to play in this novel as it's title would suggest love is the most important element. In particular the fact that love unlike romance comes in many different forms, love of country; love of nature; spiritual love; sensual love; love between family members and friends; love between differing generations.

Soueif cleverly gives an quick oversight of a century of Egyptian politics (unsurprisingly from the biased standpoint of the Egyptians themselves) and in doing so she conveys the sense that whereas love can bind people and nations together politics often only separates them. Equally neither can be fully resolved in one generation instead the ramifications of both are still to be revealed, like a trunk passed from one generation to the next.

''That is the beauty of the past; there it lies on the table: journals, pictures, a candle-glass, a few books of history. . . . 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.''

I found this an accomplished piece of writing from an author whom I had not previously read before, an surprisingly engaging and detailed portrayal of LOVE in its many forms. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 29, 2018 |
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 |
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Epigraph
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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For Ian
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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