Friday, April 06, 2007

I think of you

I think of you by Ahdaf Soueif

Ahdaf Soueif's first fiction offering since The Map of Love, which was shortlisted for the 1999 Man Booker Prize, is actually a repackaging of nine stories originally published between 1983 and 1996.

Set primarily in Egypt and the United Kingdom, each of the stories features a female character. Throughout the collection Soueif focuses on the interior life of her protagonists and the ordering of the stories lends some sense of a progressively maturing voice. The collection, however, does seem a bit uneven. With the first five stories developing two specific characters, the protagonists of final stories seem comparatively inchoate.

The first three stories--"Knowing," "1964," and "Returning"--show three different epochs in the life of Aisha, an Egyptian woman who immigrated to the United Kingdom in her teens. "Mandy" and "Satan" feature Asya, a woman separated from her husband who dealing in different ways with the repercussions of their broken marriage and his philandering.

In the title story, which is arguably the collection's strongest, the unnamed first-person narrator has been hospitalized due to a high-risk pregnancy. With her husband in London unable to get a visa and her family in Cairo, she is alone, the only patient not observing purdah. She survives her hospitalization by invoking an elderly friend, confidante, and role model who died of cancer.

If the stories have a unifying theme it is that of estrangement; estrangement (both emotional and physical) from husbands, as well as from the homeland and the culture of one's childhood. While I think of you lacks the refinement of Soueif's later work it is nevertheless worth reading. Her stories are touching, nostalgic, but never overly so. Soueif's prose is lyrical and this collection is buoyed by her ability to give her readers an extraordinary sense of place.

Read the full review at Armchair Interviews...

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