The Map of Love

The Map of Love

Book - 2000
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The Map of Love is the story of two stories- two stories separated by a hundred years of history, two stories intricately intertwined. There is the story of Lady Anna Winterbourne who, recently widowed, travels to the Middle East in 1900. In Egypt Anna meet Sharif al-Barudi, an Egyptian Nationalist, high-born and utterly committed to his country's cause. For Sharif, Anna at first represents the pseudo-benign snobberies and vulgarities of colonialist Britain. For her, Sharif stand for the real, secret Egypt - an Egypt entirely hidden from her incurious expat. compatriots. The couple fall in love, but fearfully. Can such a love survive? They marry, but can Anna really turn herself into an Oriental wife? Can Sharif adjust to Anna's Englishness? And will the real world, the unloving world of history and politics, give them a chance to try? These questions arise naturally from the telling of their hundred-year-old narrative, but they are questions which, we learn, have a powerful present-tense significance for the heroine of the book's second story- the story of Isabel Parkman, an American divorcee and a descendant of Anna and Sharif. In 1997, Isabel meets and falls in love with Omar-al-Ghamrawi, a New York based Egyptian who also has blood-links to the Anna/Sharif marriage. What to do? Isabel decides to make a trip to Egypt. She is looking for an answer to questions she has scarcely framed, as yet. She carries with her an old family trunk, which she delivers to Omar's sister, Amal, who still lives in Cairo.
In this trunk, when Amal unpacks it, are found the notebooks and journals to which Anna, one hundred years before, confided the story of her love affair with Sharif, her love affair with Egypt. And there are other relics- not least the observations of Sharif's sister, Layla. Amal pieces the story together for Isabel, and for us. Where there are gaps, she tries to fill them in, by first-hand research or by sympathetic guess-work. And as the old tale unfolds, so it invests the new tale, Isabel's tale, with a range of fresh complexities and depths. Are the two tales one? For Egypt, and for cross-cultural marriages, a lot has changed since 1900. On the other hand, so much has stayed the same. Egypt now, Isabel finds out, is born of Egypt then. Ancestry is more than just a family affair.
Publisher: London : Bloomsbury, [2000]
Copyright Date: ©2000
ISBN: 9780747545637
Branch Call Number: FIC Souei
Characteristics: 529 pages ; 20 cm


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WVMLStaffPicks Dec 06, 2014

This Booker Prize nominee fulfills one’s expectations for a great read. Soueif has convincingly portrayed two interwoven love stories spanning the last century in the Middle East and the West. Her descriptive language portrays the complex cultures and politics of transition which form the backdrop for Soueif’s wonderful tale. The people she portrays are sensual, intelligent and warm. You weep for their sorrow and exalt in their multi-faceted lives.

Jul 10, 2012

Ahdaf Soueif is clearly an ambitious novelist, one who uses fiction to weave together a dark period in Egypt's colonial history with a love story between an English gentlewoman and an Egyptian national. What struck me positively about _Map of Love_ was that the romance between Anna Winterbourne and Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi was so uplifting. I am used to inter-racial love affairs and marriages ending tragically--or at least ending-- as the characters are unable to withstand the social, parental and cultural pressures that tear at them in spite of their romantic bond. Soueif instead creates a romance where the two characters transcend their circumstances when necessary to accept the other; and yet, Soueif makes this story believable to me, gives me reason to hope for the best even when the circumstances that surround the characters are anything but pessimistic.

Less fulfilling is the parallel romance between Isabel Parkman and Omar al-Ghamrawi. The characters are flat, and at times, Isabel is made to seem too superficial and stereotypical as an American for me to believe her or take interest in her story; Omar al-Ghamrawi is even less developed than Isabel.

Although at times tough-going (I used the glossery of Arabic and American words in the back of the novel a lot), I learned a great deal from _The Map of Love_ about a history that I should already know about but do not, and at the same time, I found the love story/plot moving and even gripping. I highly recommend it.

Nov 22, 2011

Ahdaf Soueif is an amazing writer... she writes prose that reads like poetry and her compassion for her characters, their flaws and their strengths, is life-affirming. She's unafraid to describe different cultures and the struggles people have in bridging their differences, but she does this with an open heart for both cultures. She's great!

Oct 25, 2011

The novel focuses too much on politics, that the love story gets lost. As someone new to Arabic phrases and Middle Eastern history, this book was a bit difficult for me to follow.

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