The Map of Love.
I found The Map of Love by Adhaf Soueif a bit difficult to get into, and luscious once I did. The novel details exploration of a joint family history by distant cousins- one from the U.S. and one from Egypt, but it is primarily a tale of how an Englishwoman (Anna) fell in love with an Egyptian (Sharif) in the early 1900s, and how the politics of colonialism shaped their lives and the lives of their descendants. A better description of the novel can be found here.
At its core, The Map of Love is a love story, but it is never simplistic. Political movements and beliefs are often the focus rather than the background; the characters’ lives are very much shaped and determined by politics- even as the characters fight against these restraints- just as much as love. I found this fascinating, especially because Egypt’s politics and history are not subjects I’m familiar with, and because of how clear it is within the book that colonialism affects foreign relations as much in the present as the history of slavery affects the US domestically.
At one point, at the end of the story, Anna wonders if she and Sharif could have avoided politics in their lifetime together, and decides that no matter how it exhausted and strained them, they could not have because their very relationship was a political, as their two countries were at war. The weaker parts of the novel would be the relationships of their descendants, Omar, Amal and Isabel (who is in love with Omar). I never felt these characters were fleshed out enough for me to fully care about them. Anna and Sharif, on the other hand, are vivid, passionate characters who are so defined I nearly believed they were real people.
I’ve been drawn into novels on the Middle East lately, and though this one took some patience, I feel like I got a healthy dose of history with a beautifully written love story.