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Author:
• Saturday, January 31st, 2015

Ahdaf Soueif was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1950. She is the eldest of three children from a father who was professor of psychology and a mother, professor emeritus of English literature at Cairo University, who later translated some of her daughter’s literary works. Ahdaf Soueif was educated in England and Egypt, where she obtained a BA degree in English Literature in 1971 from Cairo University and in 1973 an MA in English Literature from the American University in Cairo. In England she received a Ph.D in linguistics from the University of Lancaster in 1978.

Ahdaf Soueif worked as an associate lecturer from 1971 to 1979 and then a lecturer from 1979 to 1984 at Cairo University and later as an associate professor at King Saud University in Riyadh from 1987 to 1989. Back to London in 1989 she found employment at Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation. She is a novelist and also a political and cultural commentator. She writes regularly for the Guardian newspaper in London and has a weekly column in the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Shorouk. She writes mainly in English but also in Arabic.

Ahdaf Soueif received the Cavafy award in 2011 and the Mahmoud Darwish Award in 2010. She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1999 for her fourth novel, The Map Of Love, which became a best seller and was translated into several languages. She was also awarded for Sandpiper by the Cairo International Book Fair Best Collection of Short Stories in 1996 and was shortlisted in 1983 for the Guardian Fiction Prize for her novel, Aisha.

Ahdaf Soueif wrote and published Aisha in 1983, In The Eye Of The Sun in 1992, Sandpiper in 1996 and The Map Of Love in 1999. In 2003 her translation from Arabic to English of I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti was published; then in 2004, Mezzaterra followed by I Think Of You in 2007 and Cairo My City, Our Revolution in 2012.

Ahdaf Soueif was married and has two sons from the late Ian Hamilton, the British literary critic, reviewer, biographer, poet, magazine editor and publisher. She lives between Cairo and London.

The Map Of Love, despite its unfortunate and misleading title, is a political, historical story sprinkled with romanticism, written originally in English and endearingly dotted with Egyptian colloquialisms. The story begins at the end of the 19th century and continues throughout the 20th. The events take place in London, Cairo and New York, where the past connects with the present and when history tends to repeat itself.

It’s the story of the complex history of Egypt during a whole turbulent century of its awakening, its aspirations, revolts and resistance to adversities. The author mentions names of several Egyptian heroes such as the nationalist colonel, Ahmed Orabi, the loyalist, Mustafa Kamel Pasha, the patriot Mohammed Farid and many others who were all fighting, each in his own way, to free their beloved country from the weakened Ottoman rulers who had occupied Egypt for centuries and had been superseded by the colonialist British Empire from 1882 to 1956.

One of the main characters is the newly widowed, Anna Winterbourne who leaves England for Egypt in 1900. Anna falls in love with Egypt as well as with the Egyptian nationalist, Sharif Basha al-Baroudi. She doesn’t know then that nearly a century later, her great granddaughter, Isabel Parkman, the young American divorced journalist living in New York, will fall in love with the handsome world-renowned, half Egyptian half Palestinian, pianist and conductor, Omar-al-Ghamrawi.

Although, nearly a century apart, Sharif Basha al-Baroudi as well as his great grand nephew, Omar-al-Ghamrawi, have four things in common: they share the same blood, they are both charismatic well-known figures, both in love with western women and they both fight strongly for their political beliefs. Sharif Basha wants to free Egypt from the British occupation and a century later Omar is fighting for the Palestinian cause in the Middle East. The depiction of Sharif and Anna’s love mirrored many decades later by Omar and Isabel’s is intentional by the author, as a proof that love transcends time, place and culture.

When in 1997 Isabel discovers an old trunk in her dying mother’s home containing Anna’s diary and letters written in English and Layla’s diary written in Arabic, she informs Omar, in order to get him interested in her and win his attention. Omar is much older than Isabel and has a difficult character. He is divorced and has two children and advises her to see his sister Amal in Cairo who might be willing to translate the Arabic diary and papers for her.

Isabel goes to Cairo. Amal accepts the task and while working to unravel the history of Anna and Layla through the written material and trinkets in hand, Amal discovers that she has common ancestry with Isabel. The story of Anna unfolds gradually but at the same time is intercepted by other stories that are happening a hundred years later. The past and the present run in a harmonious parallel throughout this family saga.

The Map Of Love is compassionately written with an Egyptian spirit, wit and sensibility, the author showing a good historical knowledge and a strong political opinion. The novel provides rich insights into Egyptian political, cultural and social life during all of the twentieth century including some history of the Palestinian and Israeli problem.

In one in her interviews, Ahdaf Soueif says: “The genre I work in is the ‘realistic’ novel. So my characters live in a specific time and a specific place in our real world. And in that time and place things happen – political things or public things, if you like. And they affect the characters and the characters in turn strive to affect them.”

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Author:
• Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Emili Rosales was born in 1968 in Spain’s Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He spent his childhood and adolescence in his home town before moving to Barcelona to study philology. He worked as a literature teacher and translator and currently is editor and contributor to the newspapers Avui and La Vanguardia. He lives in Barcelona and is a member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers.

Emili Rosales has written two poetry books:
Cities and Sea, published in 1989 and The Days and You, published in 1991.
He has also written four novels to date:
The Beach House, published in 1995, Lord of The Earth in 1997, While Barcelona sleeps in 1999 and The Invisible City in 2005.

The Invisible City became a best seller and has been translated into twenty five languages. The English version was published in 2009. It won the prestigious Catalan literary prize: The Sant Jordi Prize, was selected among the five best novels in Spain in 2006 and was short-listed in 2007 for the Prix Médicis Etranger in France.

Emili Rossell, the main character in the novel, is a young gallery owner in Barcelona, born and raised in Sant Carles de la Ràpita – like the author himself. One day he receives an anonymous parcel containing a copy of an 18th century manuscript written in Italian and entitled: The Memoirs of the Invisible City, written by Andrea Roselli, the Italian architect of king Charles III of Spain, who reigned from 1759 to 1788. This manuscript reawakens Rossell’s great childhood interest in the mystery of the so-called “Invisible City” in his home town, a riddle that even the adults around him couldn’t solve.

Emili Rossell mentions the invisible city of his “childhood games” out of the blue to his school friend, Armand Coll. After examining his encyclopedia, Armand informs his friend that: “Sant Carles de la Ràpita constitutes a mystery within the failed projects of the Enlightenment. It was first designed to be a grand, new city, but at some point the project came to a halt, no one knows exactly why… What was not yet a reality, soon became a pile of ruins. These are the ruins where you and your friends played and scattered pigeons”.

The author skillfully connects the past and present by constructing two parallel, intertwining plots in an architectural way. On the one hand, the aborted plans and unfulfilled dream of king Charles III of Spain and on the other hand, the remaining ruins of this ambitious scheme in the Ebro delta two centuries later. The relics of this unfinished work becomes the playground for the child, Emili Rossell and his friends, who are unaware of the history of these vestiges.

King Charles III’s biggest ambition was to replace Madrid with a new capital which he wanted built around the Ebro delta in Catalonia under the name of Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He wanted a similar city to the majestic Saint Petersburg, built by Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) on the banks of the Neva river.

This colossal plan does not materialise because of jealousy and political court intrigues. The senior royal court architect, Francesco Sabatini, who is put in charge of this gigantic project, takes the young Andrea Roselli under his wing. Everything changes when Sabatini discovers, through Tiepolo’s painting of Cecilia – intended as a present by her for her ex lover, Roselli – the romance between his wife, Cecilia and his trusted protégé.

In a jealous rage, Sabatini confronts Roselli and promises him that he will ensure that “his new city” will never exist, and “the privileges he had enjoyed so far will be taken from him”. Roselli knows that Francesco Sabatini is capable of persuading the king to bring the project to a halt, which he does.

What was destined to become a new capital, an ideal, perfect, great artistic and commercial city promoting trade between Spain and America, instead becomes a fishermans’ town. Sabatini has effectively destroyed Roselli’s career and promising future as well as alienating him. Nevertheless, some unfinished buildings will remain until the twentieth century as a witness to this agitated period.

The story also includes the mystery of the lost painting by the famous eighteenth century Venetian master, Giambattista Tiepolo. It goes missing soon after his death and Emili Rossell’s beautiful old friend, Sofia Mendizàbal, is desperately trying to find it two centuries later, by pleading the help of Rossell.

The plot contains the enigma around the hidden identity of Emili Rossell’s father. A secret well kept by his family and which haunted him during his childhood. He learns at an early age never to ask about the father he has never known, feeling a heavy hidden sense of shame and culpability. He loses interest as an adult but eventually discovers his father’s identity towards the end of the novel.

As we embark on an intimate journey with Andrea Roselli and Emili Rossell, we discover that they both have things in common such as a complicated relationship with women, whether it’s Cecilia with Andrea Roselli or Ariadna, Chloe or Sofia with Emili Rossell. Another thing they both share is having to settle accounts with their own past.

The Invisible City is an interesting, thrilling and intriguing story with an elaborate plot that manages to bring all the mysterious loose threads together in the end. There is a useful and abundant description of architecture. It’s a good insight into king Charles III of Spain’s reign and no doubt a great amount of research and maybe traveling by the author was needed in order to situate his novel in historical context. But most important of all it is the hymn of praise to Emili Rosales’ native home town, Sant Carles de la Ràpita.

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