Map of Love (Egypt)

Egyptian novel The Map of Loveby Ahdaf Soueif

The binding on this Booker Prize finalist was losing its glue…so as I read it, the pages fell out as I finished them. A chunk of the novel is under the seat on an STA bus circling Spokane. I do hope whoever finds it enjoys it.

I did.

The Map of Love bounces between Egypt’s recent past and the present day. It gave me a better understanding of what is going on in the news. It taught me some things I didn’t know.

The hair on the back of my neck would rise when, after reading a passage in the book, I’d catch a news story and recognize that the exact same thing is occurring right now–100 years of history repeating itself. And likely going much further back. Brrr!

For example, one of the characters in the book says that the ruling British are trying to stir up trouble between the religions. They want the Copts to side with them, because “we’re all Christians together” when in reality the British are treating the Egyptians like dogs–dogs in the Arab world that is, not our pampered pets. (I love British people but colonialism was an awful thing–and most Western nations are guilty of it.)

Right after  I read that passage in the book, a religious radio talk show host was saying that a Coptic church in Egypt had just been bombed “by the Muslims” and that they were in danger from “those people” and we should all band together to support our Christian brethren…it gave me chills.

The Plot

Anna has had an emotionally barren marriage made worse by her husband’s return from fighting in the Sudan. After a silent struggle with his PTSD, and (what Anna thinks is) a guilty conscience for what he was ordered to do, he kills himself.

To recover, Anna goes to Egypt, where she falls in love with a Egyptian noble who has been stripped of his title by the British. She becomes familiar with the injustices that are happening and with how women live in the Egyptian world. At balls where scantily clad (by Egyptian standards) Western women dance with British and Egyptian men in formal attire, Egyptian women listen to the festivities from an upstairs balcony–behind a lattice.

Anna’s husband is concerned with the awful poverty in his country and their inability to do anything about it. For example, a man who was going to start a native cotton industry is squashed and his fortune drained away because the overlords don’t want competition. They want the people to remain poor and dependent.

This is very interesting considering the state of Egypt today. In light of its 3,000 year history and considering that Egypt once dominated the world around it, I wonder if injustices they visited on other cultures and their own people at that time have come around to haunt them now. Or not. Of course oppression of the poor by the wealthy is a common human theme, unfortunately.

In modern times in the story, there are tangled relationships between two female cousins–one Egyptian and one American via Paris from Egypt over the course of the 100 years that separates them from their common ancestor. The American falls in love with the Egyptian’s brother, but it turns out that the two of THEM may be related…not in a good way.

Five Rounds of “Walk Like an Egyptian”

I would highly recommend The Map of Love as a painless way to get some Egyptian history under your belt while spending time with some very enjoyable, if troubled, characters.