It’s been a long time since I read a book that was at all romance-y that I really enjoyed. This book is so deep and luxurious with details and characters that the romance [or romances actually] become part of the landscape, not the book’s entire reason for being.
Soueif tracks two parallel stories that happen over 100 years apart. Two women come together as a result of a found box of personal papers and their friendship grows as they discover the story of their common ancestor. The story in the present time takes place in Egypt and New York mainly and the story from the past takes place almost entirely in Colonial Egypt where a British woman loses her husband to the fighting and falls for an Egyptian politician. Her story is revealed through her letters and diaries and is written with an intimacy that is not usually found in contemporary fiction. Along the way we learn about Egyptian traditions then and now, Egypt’s position on Israel and Palestine then and now and what the status of women in Egypt is and was. The two main female characters from the present and the one from the past are likable, fully formed but not without foibles. while this story does have a bit of the “forbidden fruit” aspect to it, it’s so well written and complexly mapped that this becomes just one of many plotlines. The family tree in the beginning and the glossary in the back allow the book to use a lot of colloquial Egyptian without completely losing the reader.