From the bestselling author of the Booker Prize finalist The Map of Love–an incisive collection of essays on Arab identity, art, and politics that seeks to locate the mezzaterra, or common ground, in an increasingly globalized world.
The twenty-five years’ worth of criticism and commentary collected here have earned Ahdaf Soueif a place among our most prominent Arab intellectuals. Clear-eyed and passionate, and syndicated throughout the world, they are the direct result of Soueif’s own circumstances of being “like hundreds of thousands of others: people with an Arab or a Muslim background doing daily double-takes when faced with their reflection in a western mirror.” Whether an account of visiting Palestine and entering the Noble Sanctuary for the first time, an interpretation of women who choose to wear the veil, or her post—September 11 reflections, Soueif’s intelligent, fearless, deeply informed essays embody the modern search for identity and community.
When Booker Prize finalist Soueif (The Map of Love) moved from Egypt to London in 1984 to live with her husband, she became one of thousands of "people with an Arab or a Muslim background living in the West and doing daily double-takes when faced with their reflection in a Western mirror." Her sense of the disconnection between Arab life as she knew it and its portrayal in Western media only deepened after the Persian Gulf War began, the second intifada erupted and America invaded Iraq. For the past four years she has found "the situation so grave written hardly anything that does not have direct bearing on it." The 38 pieces collected here some are works of reporting; most are essayistic book reviews establish Soueif as the intellectual heir to Edward Said, the Palestinian scholar who was a personal friend of hers until his death in 2003. Like Said, Soueif insists that "the discord between the Arab world and the US is entirely to do with Israel." She speaks longingly of the 1960s, when, she says, political tensions were low enough that Arabs and Westerners could meet on common ground and "differences were interesting rather than threatening, because they were foregrounded against a backdrop of affinities." Though she sometimes appeals to emotion over hard facts, her prose reads smoothly and her observations on the misery inflicted by recent conflicts are thoughtful indeed.