Map of Love-Ahdaf Soueif
"At either end of the twentieth century, two women fall in love with men outside their familiar worlds. In 1901, Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, leaves England for Egypt, an outpost of the Empire roiling with nationalist sentiment. Far from the comfort of the British colony, she finds herself enraptured by the real Egypt and in love with Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi. Nearly a hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist and descendant of Anna and Sharif has fallen in love with Omar al-Ghamrawi, a gifted and difficult Egyptian-American conductor with his own passionate politics. In an attempt to understand her conflicting emotions and to discover the truth behind her heritage, Isabel, too, travels to Egypt, and enlists Omar's sister's help in unravelling the story of Anna and Sharif's love."
I put off reading this book because of its length. I looked at this brick of a book and thought "oh dear", this might be hard-going.
I was wrong. This is a brilliant tapestry of a book weaving together historical and fictional characters. It is a story of worlds and cultures colliding and how they've always done so.
Written in the 1990s, this book is still relevant even in today's "rapidly changing political climate". I remember, when "Arab Spring" occurred in Egypt , people were surprised. Wasn't Egypt relatively stable? Wasn't it different from the rest of the Arab world? We're so used to thinking of Egypt only in terms of its archaeology, the Ancient Egyptians with their advanced civilization and ignoring the current Egyptians for whom the Ancients are only one part of the story. And then, as events unfolded, there was respect for the "extraordinary" effort of those who guarded the museum. But even a passing glance at Egypt's history would reveal the legacy of colonialism which Egypt shares with the rest of her continent and the "nationalists'" long term agenda of education.
With Map of Love, you get a sense of these histories and realities that place Egypt securely into the modern world couched within an intriguing plot full of individuals who break the mold and a beautiful ease of language. I think many non-Arab readers stand to learn a lot (though it is fiction) but they'd do so with an ease and pleasure. I loved it and actually might want to reread it again.