This Booker Prize nominee fulfills one’s expectations for a great read. Soueif has convincingly portrayed two interwoven love stories spanning the last century in the Middle East and the West. Her descriptive language portrays the complex cultures and politics of transition which form the backdrop for Soueif’s wonderful tale. The people she portrays are sensual, intelligent and warm. You weep for their sorrow and exalt in their multi-faceted lives.
Ahdaf Soueif is clearly an ambitious novelist, one who uses fiction to weave together a dark period in Egypt's colonial history with a love story between an English gentlewoman and an Egyptian national. What struck me positively about _Map of Love_ was that the romance between Anna Winterbourne and Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi was so uplifting. I am used to inter-racial love affairs and marriages ending tragically--or at least ending-- as the characters are unable to withstand the social, parental and cultural pressures that tear at them in spite of their romantic bond. Soueif instead creates a romance where the two characters transcend their circumstances when necessary to accept the other; and yet, Soueif makes this story believable to me, gives me reason to hope for the best even when the circumstances that surround the characters are anything but pessimistic.
Less fulfilling is the parallel romance between Isabel Parkman and Omar al-Ghamrawi. The characters are flat, and at times, Isabel is made to seem too superficial and stereotypical as an American for me to believe her or take interest in her story; Omar al-Ghamrawi is even less developed than Isabel.
Although at times tough-going (I used the glossery of Arabic and American words in the back of the novel a lot), I learned a great deal from _The Map of Love_ about a history that I should already know about but do not, and at the same time, I found the love story/plot moving and even gripping. I highly recommend it.
Ahdaf Soueif is an amazing writer... she writes prose that reads like poetry and her compassion for her characters, their flaws and their strengths, is life-affirming. She's unafraid to describe different cultures and the struggles people have in bridging their differences, but she does this with an open heart for both cultures. She's great!
The novel focuses too much on politics, that the love story gets lost. As someone new to Arabic phrases and Middle Eastern history, this book was a bit difficult for me to follow.
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