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Customer Review

on 21 August 2005
I found this book shelved under fiction at my local library and was pleased to find it because I've enjoyed two of her novels. Now I've read it I'm left bemused. The first part is reprints of some of her Guardian articles on Israel/Palestine, the second mainly book reviews. If I'd read the book reviews first I might have understood the political essays better: they are mostly surprisingly ungenerous and try to put the authors down by explaining how much better Soueif understands Egypt and Egyptians than they do, often putting undue emphasis on small issues of language and other details. The political essays are either mendacious or naïve and at times truly shocking. She justifies Arafat's refusal to negotiate with Barak and Clinton at Taba by saying that Clinton was on the way out and he believed it better to wait for Bush, the oil-man. This is an argument from hindsight: no one knew before the election whether Gore or Bush would win and does not begin to justify the subsequent pain and deaths among both Israelis and Palestinians which could have been avoided if Arafat had been willing to negotiate rather than initiating the intifada - Churchill was right when he said 'jaw-jaw is better than war-war'. She says 'a 'believing' Muslim cannot hate a Christian or a Jew because of who they are since Islam is clear that Muslims must live in fellowship with people of the Book'. This ignores the vile anti-Jewish sentiments preached in mosques and published in the Arab press in recent years, including a resuscitation of the mediaeval Christian blood libel that Jews use human blood to manufacture festival foods. She is falsely told that the 2 new immigrants to Israel who lost their way and were lynched in Ramallah were government agents who pretend to be Arabs and prints this without question. She claims Palestinians looking for peace cannot be expected to meet Israelis who do not accept the right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel as well as the future Palestinian state - since there are Palestinians who say that the way forward for peace is to acknowledge that Israel cannot be asked to accept the return of the refugees to Israel as well as to Palestine, as that would destroy Israel as a Jewish state while creating three Palestinian states (Jordan, Israel and Palestine) in the area in which Britain was given as a Mandate to create a home for Jews, why does Soueif present one possible view, albeit a narrow-minded one, as if it is the only valid one. She refuses to accept that the world-view of Israeli writers has any validity - surely the only way for peace to come in the Middle East is for both sides to learn to understand the mindset of the other: anyone who refuses to accept this is open to the accusation that they are using the Middle East to further their reputation as a writer rather than seriously working for peace. Soueif's novels show she is a magnificent writer of fiction but I think my librarians have a point - her political commentary is also a great work of fiction.
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