If you love books which transport you to another world (in this case, at least two different worlds in two different time periods), which give you fascinating insights into other cultures, which incorporate a good deal of history into an exciting and completely developed story line, and which introduce you to a main character so charming and intelligent that you hate to have her disappear at the end of the novel, you will be thoroughly captivated by Map of Love.
Anna Winterbourne, an aristocratic young widow from England, travels to Egypt in the late 19th century during the height of British Empire. She notes the condescension towards the Egyptians and is intelligently critical of military "adventures" there and in other Arab states such as the Sudan, South Africa, and Palestine. As she comes to know the Egyptian people and falls in love with an Egyptian, the reader--along with Anna's granddaughter and great-granddaughter, who are reading the letters and diaries which reveal her story--learns much about the past history which has so complicated presentday relations between western and Arab countries.
Like most romances, this one requires you to accept a very high level of coincidence, but that is more than offset by fine descriptive writing, fully drawn characters, and the placing of a great many recent Middle Eastern events into their Arab contexts. This Egyptian author succeeds in presenting events from an Arab point of view to a western audience--a view that is culturally honest without being polemical. Mary Whipple
on 5 August 2001
The book shows two snapshots of Egypt, at the start and the end of the 20th Century. There are many similar problems which Egypt faces but essentially, despite all the political manoeuvres the problems get worse.
The history was not well known to me, and with reading this book and English Passengers I have learnt far more about the dodgy british colonial past than any history lessons ever taught me.
But the book is much more than that. It brings together the two eras, with a wonderfull love story. To have a book with four heroines Anna , Isabel, Amal and Layla is a real treat. The writing does evoke the times and the places very well, you can feel the heat of the desert and the sand ( and that was not just because I was reading the book on Weymouth beach !)
Yes I will admit some of the politics, but mainly the number of arab names, lost me and I did not fully get the tapestry bit, but that does not make it any the less a great book and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
on 29 August 2000
This is the second book that I have read by Ahdaf Soueif (following "In the Eye of the Sun") and I am astounded by the fact that one woman could write two such different novels in a space of a couple of years. This is a story spanning almost two hundred years of Egyptian history through a double time line. The concept is great, and although at first it may be confusing, the family tree provided and Ahdaf Soueif's superb writing abilities soon overcome this. I must confess that I knew little of the British occupation of Egypt (even though I am part English) and so, this book has contributed vastly to my education on world matters as well as my own country's history. I find the way she tackles subjects that are still under the spotlight in Egypt (aswell as the rest of the Arab world), such as feminism, the Palestinian/Israeli issue and even terrorism, commendable. Having visited the country recently, her concerns over these issues, are well voiced and still demanding - to various extents - to be solved. The human element of love and family simply serves to make the historical factor more realistic and poignent. Once again, a book that must be read by all; British, Egyptian or otherwise.
on 8 August 2011
I belong to a Book Club and "The Map of Love" was the latest book we were reading. I started out full of hope, but found it far too wordy - I just couldn't get on with the style of writing. It is not often I give up on a book - I usually persevere until the end. However, on this occasion, by the time I got to about Page 200, I was beginning to give up the will to live, so I have stopped reading this book and certainly have no intention of going back to it. I liked the idea of the plot, but felt the author was working on the premise of "Why use one word, when 100 will do!".
on 15 July 2002
If someone selected this work based on the title, they may well be disappointed, or alternatively, they may overlook a great work which delves into the history of Egypt, in particular Egypt's relationship with the English over the last hundred years, in the context of a beautiful, cross-cultural, cross-generational, love affair.
...the main character, Anna, is undoubtedly exceptional, however, I am certain that a tiny handful of English women of her time had the same open-minded attitude to the Egyptians. Never is it suggested that Anna had an easy ride as a result of the choice she made to marry an Egyptian. She remained an outsider to the English and the Egyptians, to a very large extent, hence her need to write these fascinating diaries and letters.The risk of this Anglo-Egyptian liaison is very high for Anna and her husband. She is rejected by most of her English counterparts in Egypt and the price her husband ultimately pays, possibly as a result of his liaison with her, is irreversible.
Despite the fact that this is fiction, I would still say that fortunately individuals such as Anna did what little they could to try to educate others in England on what being Egyptian actually meant.First-hand experience is perhaps the best way to achieve profound, cultural understanding, and only when fully immersed in a foreign world can people begin to comprehend the value of cultural integration. The English in England who had not seen or lived what the Egyptians were battling with at the turn of the century could not begin to understand what was important to Egypt, and yet they were controlling the country.
Soueif, born in Cairo and educated in Egypt and England, is in a perfect position to paint both the English and the Egyptian picture, and she does so from the most open-minded, factually-based perspective we could dream of. Her vision, her writing skill and her knowledge are what we need to move forward in society as a whole.
on 8 October 2015
1997. “A story can start from the oddest things. For Amal al-Ghamrawi, this story started with a trunk”. Inside Amal finds letters and dairies hidden for almost a hundred years. From them she unlocks a moving romance, an axis around which spin the history and politics of Egypt. She rediscovers herself and her family, her country and its history. This novel by the accomplished author combines the best of romantic and historical fiction.
1896. Lady Anna Winterbourne, a young English widow, comes to Cairo. She meets the charismatic Sharif al-Baroudi. Their love is celebrated on a stormy stage. A bright new generation seeks to free the land from the dying Ottoman Empire and the new colonialists of Britain and France. Sharif is part of that generation.
Politics and history of the time are a key part of the story. The reader would need to have some knowledge of and interest in the period.
Alongside the main love story runs a contemporary affair – a word I chose deliberately - between Omar, an internationally recognised musician, and a young American student, Isabel. It is Isabel who brings the trunk to Amal. Omar is Amal’s older brother. The two time frames loop in and out as the tapestry of loving is woven. Numerous connections are revealed between the modern day couple and Sharif and Anna - I will not spoil these.
As a century earlier with Anna and Sharif, the politics of modern day Egypt intimately affect Isabel and Omar. Central to both periods is the question of Palestine and the embryonic, then established, state of Israel.
Ahdaf takes on many themes personal and political. She explores the problem for Arab intellectuals, like herself and her creation Omar, torn between east and west, tradition and modernity, religion and secularism. The author crafts intriguingly the emotional ties of brothers and sisters, compared to those between husband and wife. Much else besides.
Very occasionally the prose slips as the author is carried away by the lovers, but Anna and Sharif are grounded enough to pull her back on line. Some of the writing is exquisite. “old people are starved of touch: no husband, no lover, no child to slip a hand into a hand. I watched her in her last years: her hand stroking, stroking, the chairs, the table, the bedspread”.
Ahdaf’s vision of her land and its people is broad and deep. This I enjoyed.
on 27 April 2000
An absurdly overrated book, judging by the plaudits on the jacket. Marquez? I don't think so. This is just a Mills and Boon romance dressed up with bolted-on and boringly presented politics and a bit of feeble magic realism. (It is the second book I have read since the New Year that has been praised by serious critics and has turned out to be unreadable slush - the other one was Vikram Seth's "An Equal Music" . What is going on?) What is worse about this book is that it purports to be postcolonial in its sensibilities but itself falls into all the old traps of Orientalism.
Two things leapt at out me but I admit I haven't checked them so I may be wrong. if I'm right they just confirm the fundamental laziness of the writing.
1 Anna has read Queen Victoria's diaries within a year or two of Victoria's death. I find it hard to believe they were published that soon.
2 Anna gets married in an Islamic ceremony wearing a low-cut dress.
Really you'd be better off watching Rudolf Valentino.
on 30 January 2001
Having just come back from a holiday in Cairo, I was eager to read The Map of Love but sadly it was not as enjoyable as Egypt itself.
The book is slow-paced and, at times, very difficult to follow as it clumsily switches between different timelines. The author's depicition of modern Cairo is evocative and commendable but Lady Anna Winterbourne and her forbidden lover, Sharif Pasha, are hackneyed at best.
On far too many occassions, the (thin) plot is abandoned whilst the reader is subjected to lengthy and self-indulgent passages detailing the struggles of small bunch of nationalists in British-ruled Egypt. Unfortunately, even the family tree provided at the start of book only serves to detract from the plot as it allows the reader an easy guess at what will be the fate of Sharif.........
Certainly do not buy this book on the strength of the reviews as you will be disappointed. One critic describes it as 'reminiscent of Marquez and Allende' and so I lent the book to my mother who is an avid fan of those authors. She was also throuroughly confused and bored by the politics and the poor storyline.
on 2 January 2010
`The map of love' written in 1999 by Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist as well as a political and cultural commentator. The novel short listed for `The ManBooker prize' in 1999 is the second of Soueif's novels published.
A complex tale from two different time periods; one set in 1897; following Lady Anna Winterbourne and taking the reader through a series of letters and journals she wrote through her trip in Egypt. The second, set in 1997 following Lady Anna Winterbourne's great granddaughter Isobel, whom discovers the trunk containing the journals and letters. The contents of the trunk reveals a dark family secret, which has an impact on her life that even she could not have anticipated.
The story with a seemingly exciting plot is undermined by the structure of the book itself. Switching between the two time periods is executed in such a way that is complicated for the reader to fully relate to either of the narratives. The vast array of characters makes it hard for the reader to be able to make a connection and relate to any one in particular, which does not help when trying to create an attachment to the book.
In addition to this, the story is made harder to grasp with the use of Arabic words within the text. Although there is an explanatory glossary at the back this detracts from the flow of the story and is frustrating for the reader. To fully enjoy the book, background knowledge of Egyptian culture and politics would be useful, as a large portion of the novel is based around these themes.
In conclusion, despite the initial clever plot `The map of love' is flawed by its complicated structure and the lack of relationship it creates with the reader and the characters within.
on 11 December 2000
A hundred years ago, Lady Winterbourne, lily-like and lissom, falls into the arms of a handsome Sharif Pasha, a leader of men, a wealthy man of wisdom and justice. Oh, she does ride into the desert on a camel, she does wear breeches (that really turns him on...), and she does break with her British background, with all her stupid friends, except her ex-father-in-law. (He's there to show that Europeans can be OK, and also as an excuse for the writing of letters that make up the main story). And she's a wonderful wife: a) she loves her new mother-in-law from day one, although they don't even have a language in common; b) she realizes she was wrong to withdraw her own money from her own bank account, when instead she should have asked her husband for money, (he will give her anything, diamonds, rubies, whatever - and he is sooo hurt by her untrusting behavior); c) after having survived an English husband, she now - in a flash, in an Oriental bed - learns to enjoy sex. Yes, having sex with her new husband actually turns her into a - woman! If this is feminism, I'm a taliban.