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Passing through

Ahdaf Soueif: William Golding’s ‘Egyptian Journal’, 3 October 1985

An Egyptian Journal 
by William Golding.
Faber, 207 pp., £12.95, July 1985, 0 571 13593 5
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... About ten years ago, on a previous visit to Egypt, William Golding arrived at ‘a simple truth: that Egypt is a complex country of more-or-less Arab culture and it is outrageous for the uninformed visitor to confine himself to dead Egyptians while the strange life of the valley and the desert goes on all round him.’ This time, therefore, it was going to be different: the Goldings would hire a boat on which they would live, ‘proceeding up and down the Nile, stopping off at such places of interest as Oxyrhynchus and Abydos; and mingling lightheartedly with live Egyptians instead of dead ones ...

Doing something

Ahdaf Soueif, 1 October 1987

Persian Nights 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 352 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 7011 3234 5
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Smile, and Other Stories 
by Deborah Moggach.
Viking, 175 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 670 81658 2
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Fast Lanes 
by Jayne Anne Phillips.
Faber, 148 pp., £8.95, August 1987, 0 571 14924 3
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... Three or four years ago, a friend of mine was asked to illustrate a Teaching English book for the Ministry of Education in Cairo. He was (is) an Egyptian, but an Egyptian from outside officialdom – a cartoonist. He painted a series of charming and instantly recognisable street scenes: stacked green-grocers’, lemonade vendors, decked-out taxicabs, dust-carts pulled by donkeys ...

Goat Face

Ahdaf Soueif, 3 July 1986

After a Funeral 
by Diana Athill.
Cape, 158 pp., £9.50, February 1986, 0 224 02834 0
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... Waguih Ghali’s excellent novel Beer in the Snooker Club was published by André Deutsch in 1964. It attracted attention and enthusiastic reviews. The same happened when it was reissued in the Penguin New Writers series in 1968. On the night of Boxing Day that year, Ghali wrote in his diary: I am going to kill myself tonight ... The time has come ...

The Water-Heater

Ahdaf Soueif, 19 August 1982

... The flat was silent except for the steady hiss of the water-heater. It was a sound he was not completely used to yet. Until two months ago, whenever he had wanted to have a bath the primus had had to be lit. Faten had always lit it for him. Every afternoon, after he had woken from his siesta, he would knock at the door of his mother’s room. Her voice, faint, would float out from within: ‘Come in, my son ...

Her Man

Ahdaf Soueif, 21 August 1980

... Zeina sat on the bed in her room on the roof staring out of the window. The sun had set, but there was still some light left in the pale blue sky. Clouds were gathering, and she could see the clothes hanging out to dry on the neighbours’ rooftop blowing in the rising wind. It was time to call Sa’d in from the street and give him his supper. She sighed ...


Ahdaf Soueif, 30 March 1989

... The scent of jasmine fills the air. It has been filling the air every night for the last month, I guess. Which is how you know the season is changing in this country. In this country the bougainvillaea blooms against our walls and windows all the year round. The lizards dart out from under the stones and back in again. The mosquitoes buzz outside the netting and the pool-boy can be seen tending the pool every morning from eight to ten ...
by Ahdaf Soueif.
Cape, 159 pp., £7.50, July 1983, 0 224 02097 8
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... In this small-scale and intimate first collection of stories by Ahdaf Soueif there is a remarkably productive, somewhat depressing tension between the anecdotal surface of modern, Westernised Egyptian life and the troubling, often violent but always persisting traditional forms beneath. In one story, cajoled and pleaded to by her family and importunate suitors, Marianne is nevertheless seduced by an engineer whose Eau Sauvage, silk robe and Zamalek flat are to her the height of an irresistible worldliness: after she becomes his mistress it is discovered, however, that he runs a vice ring ...

Forbidden to Grow up

Gabriele Annan: Ahdaf Soueif, 15 July 1999

The Map of Love 
by Ahdaf Soueif.
Bloomsbury, 529 pp., £18.99, June 1999, 0 7475 4367 4
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... When Tolstoy died in November 1910, one of the principal characters in Ahdaf Soueif’s new novel felt bereaved: ‘I have derived more enjoyment from Anna Karenina and War and Peace,’ Lady Anna Winterbourne notes in her diary, ‘than from any other novels that I have read.’ The Map of Love suggests that Soueif herself may have Tolstoyan aspirations ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: From Bethlehem, 5 June 2008

... until, that is, our colleague the actor Khalid Abdalla came through, in company with the novelists Ahdaf Soueif and Hanan al-Shaykh. ‘What’s your grandfather’s name?’ the girls said. ‘Stand there.’ For two hours the rest of us waited outside until the harassment was over and the cultural visit could proceed. By the time we reached Bethlehem we ...

At the Allenby Bridge

Jeremy Harding: Crossing the Jordan, 25 June 2009

... eyes. The occasion felt more like a disagreeable game than anything to do with security. In 2003, Ahdaf Soueif records in Mezzaterra, hundreds of students at Birzeit were prevented from entering the university until, in the end, a checkpoint officer decided that only the ones with gel in their hair would go through. ‘Today,’ he announced, ‘gel will ...

Asyah and Saif

Frank Kermode, 25 June 1992

In the Eye of the Sun 
by Ahdaf Soueif.
Bloomsbury, 791 pp., £15.99, June 1992, 0 7475 1163 2
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... on this matter of male jealousy, as on practically everything else, it is completely explicit. Soueif’s dialogue is expert throughout, but the scenes between husband and wife after the discovery are horrifyingly so. And even the most trivial marital quarrel is often quite anguishing as well as on occasion quite funny, as when Sail drives round and round ...

‘You made me do it’

Jacqueline Rose, 30 November 2023

... and he was condemned.There have been other exceptions (at PalFest in London last month, Ahdaf Soueif opened with a one-minute silence for ‘everyone, especially all the children who get killed in these moments of conflict’ and also referred to 7 October), but this is, I think, part of a pattern. For some time, certain ways of thought have ...

Where are the playboys?

Robert Irwin: The politics of Arab fiction, 18 August 2005

Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology 
edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi.
Columbia, 1056 pp., £40, June 2005, 0 231 13254 9
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... all is not well within that world. Those in Britain include Layla Ba‘albaki, Hannan al-Shaykh, Ahdaf Soueif, Tayyeb Salih and Zakariyya Tamir. But France is even more popular with Arab writers and there are quite a few to be found in Germany and Scandinavia. Soon after the Six-Day War, the Israeli politician Yigal Allon told Emile Habiby, a ...

We’ll win or lose it here

Robert F. Worth: Lessons from Tahrir Square, 21 September 2017

The City Always Wins 
by Omar Robert Hamilton.
Faber, 312 pp., £14.99, August 2017, 978 0 571 33517 6
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Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt 
by Yasmine El Rashidi.
Tim Duggan, 181 pp., £11.70, June 2017, 978 0 7704 3729 9
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... or the army. Hamilton’s father was the British writer Ian Hamilton. His mother, the novelist Ahdaf Soueif, published her own book about the same events in 2012, Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. His aunt, uncle and cousins are longtime activists who were prominent figures in Tahrir Square and afterwards. Hamilton too took part in the protests and his ...

The bullet mistakenly came out of the gun

Jack Shenker: The Age of Sisi, 30 November 2017

The Queue 
by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.
Melville House, 220 pp., £10.99, June 2016, 978 0 9934149 0 9
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... last year, he took a bundle of books with him by some of Egypt’s leading contemporary novelists: Ahdaf Soueif, Radwa Ashour and Abdel Aziz. All the novels were allowed through by the security guards, except for The Queue. ‘The officer in charge explained that this was because the book appeared to “contain ideas”,’ Abdel Aziz says, ‘and ideas ...

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