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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:
• Friday, April 29th, 2011

Fadia Faqir was born in 1956 in Amman, Jordan to a conservative family where she was one of nine children. She obtained her BA degree in English Literature from the University of Amman, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, England.

In 1990 Fadia Faqir was awarded the first Ph.D in Critical and Creative Writing by the University of East Anglia. She was the senior editor of the Arab Women Writers Series, for which she received the 1995 New Venture Award.

Fadia Faqir is a defender of human rights, especially in the Arab world. She is a member of the Board of Al-Raida, a feminist journal published by the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. She now lives with her Hungarian, Irish, English, husband in Durham in the north of England.

Fadia Faqir has written three novels to date :
Nisanit in 1990.
Pillars of Salt in 1998.
My Name Is Salma in 2007 which was published in several countries and translated into fourteen languages.
She has also written some short stories and play scripts.

Young Salma is a wild Muslim Arab shepherdess who likes playing the reed pipe to her goats, frolicking in nature and swimming in the river. She lives with her parents and elder brother, Mahmoud, in Hima, in a bedouin village in the Levant. Her family is very conservative, consequently her care-free life ends when she gets pregnant out of wedlock by her young lover, Hamdan, which brings dishonour upon her family.

She has to escape before her brother kills her, so as to purify the family’s blood and restore their honour, by taking refuge in the Islah prison where she gives birth to a baby girl. But Salma’s baby girl is snatched out of her arms at birth by her cell mate, Noura and given to the prison warden to put in a home for illegitimate children, despite Salma’s shouting and screaming to retain her.

Salma is then smuggled into Lebanon by a nun and lives in a convent before seeking refuge and safety in England and settling in the city of Exeter. It is difficult for the unsophisticated bedouin young woman to be so abruptly uprooted and reject her upbringing, confront a different culture and meld Salma into Sal or Sally, her English adopted names.

Salma tries to adopt a good English accent and manners from her elderly English landlady, Elizabeth, but will always remain and feel an alien outside her village. She can’t bury the past which haunts her constantly and certainly can’t forget Layla, the daughter she left behind and yearns for and who will be the end of her.

Salma is torn between wanting to live and her feeling of guilt, which according to her beliefs, deserves death as punishment. Her defiant character pushes her to seek a job as a seamstress and to take a second job in the evening in a hotel bar in order to make more money to be able to pay her bills. She even enrolls in an English literature course in the Open University to improve her English and marries her Geordie teacher, John Robson, and bears him a baby son, Imran.

Salma even has a social life as she becomes a close friend of the retired Welsh headmistress, Gwen and also enjoys the friendship of Parvin, a Pakistani young woman who, like Salma, escaped from her family to avoid an arranged marriage imposed on her by her father.

Both young women have in common the feeling of injustice dictated by their family’s inherited, intransigent conventions and the fear of being caught by their kin after breaking away. Salma and Parvin are vulnerable, insecure and apprehensive about their future. They form a good match and therefore become of invaluable support and comfort to each other.

Nevertheless, Salma can’t help perceiving herself as a sinner and therefore unworthy of living. An infidel who is no longer a Muslim, an impure, a kind of a living filth who deserves to be beaten to death. She has an obstinate, strong character and determination for survival combined with a strain of self-hatred and self-destruction.

The whole novel is narrated by Salma who gives her point of views about her past and her present by random flashbacks between the Middle East and England, which at times disrupt the smooth running sequence of the narration. The author declares that the structure of the novel is deliberate in order to convey that Salma felt alienated from both communities: the permissive West and her very conservative own community.

The main subject of the novel deals with cross-cultures, oppression, violence against women and the position of the female gender in society in certain patriarchal communities, portrayed by the author through honour killings and forced marriages. Serious and complex subjects treated with skill and with a pinch of humour.

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