Lovely Stories, Confusing Ending,
This review is from: Aisha (Paperback)
I bought this book thinking that it was a short novel about a woman called Aisha (who as we can see from the first story is an early sketch for Asya in 'In the Eye of the Sun'). In fact, what 'Aisha' is is a series of short stories, with the young intellectual Aisha providing a link between them: all the stories are either about her, her friends or her family servants.
There is some truly wonderful writing in this book: beautiful descriptions of places, excellent dialogue, and sharp insights into the characters' minds. I particularly enjoyed the first story, in which Aisha reflects painfully on the end of her marriage; her memories of living in England as a child; the story of Marianne (Mimi), Aisha's Coptic Christian friend who falls in love with the wrong man; and the stories of Aisha's family servant Zeina, married young, who has to put up with her husband taking a second, younger wife (or does she?). As these are short stories, the tone is quite fragmented and there isn't really an overall narrative. There are a lot of gaps in Aisha's story that don't get filled - we never really learn how she met her husband, or much about her family and her work as a teacher, or her education after her childhood in England. Still, if one isn't expecting a chronological narrative this doesn't matter - just enjoy Soueif's beautiful writing and depictions of Egypt.
The one thing that did confuse me was the final story, which had a hint of magic realism about it: the Aisha here seemed a totally different woman to the one in the first story - she was still married, for one thing. Were they meant to be the same person? And the love affair with the butcher seemed a bit bizarre. I also felt what Soueif did with Aisha on the last page of the book was a bit of an anticlimax, and certainly a change from the realistic tone of most of the rest of the stories.
Still, much recommended for anyone who enjoys elegant writing, and writing about the Middle East.
NB This book is now out of print but some of the best stories from it have been reprinted in 'I Think of You', a collection incorporating stories from this and 'Sandpiper'.