A wonderfully accomplished and mature work.... Although a key part of the novel's maturity is its ability to face up squarely to both politics and love, the narrative unfolds obliquely—so obliquely that it even starts in midsentence.... [The] novel requires—and deserves—an active, attentive audience.
Annette Kobak - New York Times Book Review
A bold and vibrant novel.... This is political fiction that is also unashamedly romantic.... A trimphant achievement.
Penelope Lively - Literary Review
A magnificent work, reminiscent of Marquez and Allende in its breadth and confidence.
Epic.... Soueif is at her most eloquent on the subject of her homeland, her prose rich with historical detail and debate. Ultimately, Egypt emerges as the true heroine of this novel.
Coincidence—personal, political and cultural—rules in this burnished, ultra-romantic Booker Prize finalist. In 1997, Isabel Parkman, a recently divorced American journalist, travels to Egypt to research about the impending millennium. But her interest in Egypt has more to do with her crush on Omar al-Ghamrawi, a passionate and difficult older Egyptian-American conductor and political writer, than with her work. Once in Egypt, Isabel neglects her project for a more personal investigation. Lugging with her a mysterious trunk of papers bequeathed to her by her mother, Isabel turns up at Omar's sister Amal's house in Cairo and explains that Omar had said she might be interested in translating the papers. As the two soon discover, Isabel is Amal's distant cousin, and the papers belonged to their mutual great-grandmother, Anna Winterbourne. As a young English widow, Anna traveled to turn-of-the-century Egypt, then an English colony, and fell in love with an Egyptian man. "I cannot help thinking that when she chose to step off the well-trodden paths of expatriate life, Anna must have secretly wanted something out of the ordinary to happen to her," muses Amal, who begins to realize that the same applies to her own life. Soueif (In the Eye of the Sun) writes simply and, on occasion, beautifully. Anna's journal entries are particularly evocative. Sticklers for narrative detail might chafe at the number of incredible coincidences, including a bizarre twist involving Isabel's mother and Omar, and forsaken plot devices (Isabel's millennium project is never mentioned after her arrival in Egypt). On balance, however, Soueif weaves the stories of three formidable women from vastly different times and countries into a single absorbing tale.
This exotic family saga/romance by the Egyptian-born Soueif is based on a conceit: the discovery of family letters and diaries by New York journalist Isabel, which leads to her discovery of the Egyptian branch of the family she never knew she had. Isabel's great-grandmother was a young English widow who traveled to Egypt to see where her young husband had fought in World War I. Abducted by Egyptian nationalists while in disguise as a male, she subsequently fell in love with an Egyptian man. Her story is slowly unraveled when Isabel returns the trunk containing her papers to the sister of an Egyptian doctor from New York, both of whom turn out to be her long-lost cousins. This colorful, involving story offers a good dose of history of the struggle for Egyptian independence from British rule. Recommended as something a little different where historical romances are popular. —Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA
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