Tag-Archive for ◊ Middle East ◊

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 02nd, 2014

Elif Shafak was born in 1971 to Turkish parents, a philosopher father and a diplomat mother, in Strasbourg, France. Her parents divorced when she was one year old and she returned to Turkey with her mother, which left an imprint on her life. A single child raised by a single divorcee mother was an unusual situation in a patriarchal environment in Ankara in the early 1970s.

Shafak lived between her traditionalist, irrational, superstitious grandmother in Ankara and her well educated, feminist, westernised, diplomat mother, abroad. She travelled all over the world which made her a multicultural and cosmopolitan person in her life and in her writing, combining eastern and western cultures as well as traditions in her novels.

Shafak writes in Turkish and English and is the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into many languages. She has won Turkish literary awards and has received several prestigious international prizes, one of them being the French honorary distinction of Chevalier des arts et des lettres in 2010.

Shafak is also a political Scientist and assistant professor. She obtained a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. Her Master’s thesis on Islam, Women and Mysticism received an award from the Social Scientists Institute. She has been a teacher at various universities all over the world.

Shafak writes for a number of daily and monthly publications in Turkey and has contributed to several newspapers in Europe and in the USA as well as writing lyrics for Turkish musicians.

She lives with her two young children and Turkish husband who works as editor-in-chief for an Istanbul newspaper. She divides her time between Istanbul – the Turkish city that she is very attached to and which takes a central part in her novels – and London.

Her book, Honour, was written in English and published in 2012.

Adem Toprak is from Istanbul and his Kurdish wife, Pembe, was born and raised in a small, remote, roadless village called Mala çar Bayan located near the river Euphrates. Pembe has always longed to travel and after her marriage she moves to Istanbul, where her two children, Eskender and Esma were born. Her wish is fulfilled when her husband decides to emigrate with the family to 1970s bustling London, before the arrival of their third child Yunus.

Once in London, Adem and Pembe want to believe in love and freedom but deep inside they can’t get rid of, nor leave behind, their entrenched resistance to adapt to a different culture, nor their ingrained perception of betrayal, shame and honour.

Honour is the story of three generations of a Turkish and Kurdish family. Through the various narrators and viewpoints, the author is juxtaposing eastern and western cultures as well as conservative and modern societies.

The story revolves between Turkey and London. It starts with Esma and ends with her. Esma is the second Toprak child, a bright student. She is ambitious, independent, strong headed and destined to a bright future. The irony is that after her studies and her ambitious dreams, she ends up like her mother as a housewife. Esma has now two twin daughters following her marriage to the considerate and caring Palestinian immigrant scientific scholar, Nadir.

Yunus and Nadir become good friends. After sharing some thrills with a group of punk squatters, that he came across by chance in his early teens, Yunus becomes a successful musician with a band.
Throughout the story the author emphasizes the three siblings’ – Eskender, Esma and Yunus – different degrees of adaptation to the western world. Each one of them trying to adapt in his own way and according to the circumstances they are facing.

Feeling uprooted and lost in his new adopted country, Adem, the head of the family, has been brought up by an “at times sober, sweet and kind and at times drunken, evil and violent” father and a submissive mother who disappears out of his life at an early age. Having had this unsettled and insecure upbringing, Adem, once in London becomes an addicted gambler. He spends all his money to satisfy the needs of his Bulgarian lover, Roxana, the dancer. He eventually abandons his wife, Pembe and his three children without any income to survive on.

Adem’s wife Pembe, who is a determined and yet vulnerable character, feels just as displaced and disoriented as her husband. She finds a job in a hair-dressing saloon and finds solace in writing letters to her identical twin sister, Jamila.

Jamila, never marries – because her honour has been besmirched when kidnapped as a young girl through no fault of her own – and is living secluded in a remote place in Turkey. She becomes a midwife and a healer. She has a psychic connection with her identical twin sister and is an important character in the plot’s twist at the end of the story.

With her husband having run away with another woman, leaving her to bring-up their three children, Pembe establishes an innocent, secret relationship with a Greek cook, which will lead to her demise and lead her son Eskender to Shrewsbury prison after committing his irreparable crime by killing her for it. Eskender finds it difficult to embrace two cultures at once. He is a sympathetic character as an adult, when he is tortured by guilt and remorse and feels repentant for committing his heinous crime. Previously he was a confused teenager trying hard to find the right path on his own. He was young, without a father to guide him and with a mother who spoilt him and called him her “sultan”.

Eskender considers his mother’s irreproachable friendship with a man to be a crime and only by killing her can he restore the Toprak family honour, since his father will not undertake this task himself. Pembe has to die like her eldest sister, Hediye, who died, hanged by her family, many years earlier, for having eloped and then been forsaken by a young medical assistant.

In the novel, the author underlines that for some communities the only answer to restoring the family’s honour is death and that this code of honour is carried forward from generation to generation.

Honour has several themes: patriarchal societies, immigration, the search of identity, multiculturalism and honour code as well as honour killing – which today is still alive and well in various tribal communities all over the world. Just as domestic violence against women is also increasingly spreading all over the eastern and western world.

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