Map of Love, The
by Ahdaf Soueif
Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love is a massive family saga, a story that draws its readers into two moments in the complex, troubled history of modern Egypt. The story begins in 1977 in New York. There Isabel Parkman discovers an old trunk full of documents–some in English, some in Arabic–in her dying mother’s apartment. Incapable of deciphering this stash by herself, she turns to Omar al-Ghamrawi, a man with whom she is falling in love. And Omar directs her in turn to his sister Amal in Cairo.With its multiple narratives and ever-shifting perspectives, The Map of Love would seem to cast some doubt on even the most confident historian’s version of events. Yet this subtle and reflective tale of love does suggest that the relations between individuals can (sometimes) make a difference. “I am in an English autumn in 1897,” Amal confesses at one point, “and Anna’s troubled heart lies open before me.” Here, perhaps, is a hint about how we should read Soueif’s staggering novel, using words as a means to travel through time, space, and identity.