The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

Okay, so this is another one of those ‘historically-based romantic fictions set in another country’ which I like, but I promise it will be the last one for a while! Yet another risk at the charity shop, I still feel mixed about this one.

It centres on two women, Anna Winterbourne in 1901 and Isabel Parkman in the early 2000s, and their links to Egypt. Anna is Isabel’s great grandmother and when Isabel discovers a trunk of Anna’s old letters and journals, she travels to Egypt to find out more about Anna’s life there. Anna is a widowed English lady who dreams of a more meaningful life in exotic Egypt after using paintings of the country to find solace after her husband’s death. When she is accidentally kidnapped on a sightseeing trek, she finds herself in the house of Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi, who she quickly falls in love with and later marries, and so begins to see a whole different side of the country and it’s politics.

As Isabel unearths Anna’s story, she stays with the sister of her new Egyptian lover Omar in Cairo, who also turns out to be the descendant of Sharif’s sister. Isabel discovering her own heritage and coming to terms with who she is in relation to it, and to Omar, is the basic romantic plot that drives the story along. It is a little confusing at time with switching between eras and narrators, but once you get used to the different styles (and helpfully different fonts for some), it isn’t too hard to follow.

The hard part was the political side of things, which I had not expected to feature so heavily and slowly grew in length until at times I just wanted to skip through them. I know very little about twentieth century Egyptian politics, and this book unfortunately assumed you did and so it was a little hard to keep up with the people and plots. The book is still readable, the plot is interesting, many of the characters engrossing, and it is well written, but this political aspect did cause me to read it quite slowly as I just tried to figure out what was going on (with the help of Wikipedia)! Not fantastic if you want a book you can really get stuck into. Overall, it is good but maybe not one I would recommend to the average reader, without a strong suggestion to do some background reading first!


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