Saturday, August 19, 2000

In the Eye of the Sun - Book Review - Ahdaf Souief

This was the second of four Souief Books and her first full-length work. It is a real treat, very well conceived and written. It is an excellent portrayal of Egyptian society and the various conflicting influences affecting the Egyptian character.

Ahdaf Souif paints each and every character in the novel in a "real" fashion, they are all very plausible in their strength, peculiarities and humanities; the goodies and the "badies" alike, are all well rounded. This does not only apply to Asya, Seif, Crissie and the other main personalities, but to the many minor ones too. No cardboard here!

In part this is a story of young idealistic Egyptian girl, Asya, growing up in the quasi-socialist days of Nasser. Ahdaf Souief paints a remarkably accurate picture of life in Cairo during that era. The 1967 Six days war takes place, dreams are shattered and many lives are torn, but largely life goes on. Asya's love story in Egypt moves with her abroad as she goes to the North of England for post Graduate education. Again Souief paints a remarkable detailed and accurate picture of life in the North of England in that era. Asya struggles and adapts with life in the west. She is so very firmly anchored in her roots, upbringing, and culture; yet she still wades into The West.

Asya strengths and weaknesses as a human being dominate much of the second half of the book, all written in a gripping language that makes you feel you are right there, part of the scene. At times I wanted to shout out "leave him.. throw him out .. he's no good ..don't you see ..." or "call him ..tell him ... don't put up with that .."

Souif painted an outstandingly accurate picture of how a wedding, a funeral, school life and even war and politics feel like in Egypt. Souif was specially masterful at the way she weaved the funeral scene, with her superb translation of the Quran. I could actually picture myself in Etba in Cairo receiving the mourners.

Ahdaf Souif's mastery of both English and Arabic comes across in every word in the book. She loves both languages and takes and gives joy in illustrating their beauty without losing the theme of the book.

The book shed a great deal of light on how Egyptian view not only themselves but also how they view the west, the Arabs and also Israel. It provides a very realistic look on how integrated Moslems and Christians are in City life in Cairo. (at least used to be , not really sure about now)
Aisha and Sandpiper are 2 other outstanding books by AS, if you enjoy this book, you will certainly like these 2. In a funny way, some of the stories from these 2 books are intertwined with In the Eye of the Sun. You will appreciate these 2 shorter books many times more after you have read this one.

The Map of Love, her most recent book 1999, was short listed for the Booker prize (and should have won it over Disgrace which is also a fantastic book with great insight on life at the other end of the Africa) , is an excellent book but not half as good or real as this book, In The Eye Of The Sun is a real treat. I was depressed when I finished it, I wanted more!