The Map of Love, by Ahdaf Soueif 

(The Guardian')
1999

Ahdaf Soueif has gained a strong reputation from previous novels for the delicacy with which she traces lines between East and West. In books such as ‘In The Eye Of The Sun’ she has placed her characters against post-colonial landscapes to illuminate both. ‘The Map of Love’ covers some familiar terrain, but here she meets with only limited success.

The novel traces the unfolding of two cross-cultural romances, a century apart, involving the Baroudis, a powerful, high-born Egyptian family...

Soueif’s intent is to show how the “feel and smell of the past wraps itself” around present-day lives, and so Amal goes through the trunk, discovers their blood link, and the correspondences between Isabel’s and Anna’s encounters with the Orient grow; current Egyptian issues, of national recovery, the difficulties facing the ‘fellah’ peasant class, and Arab-Jewish relations, are also foreshadowed in the concerns of a century ago; while such issues continue to take their toll on individual lives and aspirations, the only fruits that endure, the novel suggests, are those of love.

Unfortunately the amplification that Soueif is seeking through these counterpoints is rarely achieved and this is largely because her concerns are not sufficently worked through the fates of her characters, particularly the present-day ones...
 


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