About seven years ago, an American colleague of my husband asked me if I knew of an Egyptian novelist by the name Ahdaf Soueif. Filled with confidence (why is it that the more ignorant one is, the more confident one feels?) I replied: "This does not sound like an Egyptian name, I think you made a mistake." Since Jan had read Ahdaf's books, she insisted that Ahdaf was Egyptian. A quick Google search exposed my ignorance. I would have loved to cover the ignorance, by saying that the problem was the khawaga pronunciation of the name, but Jan is fluent in Arabic.
I never expected this incident to be a turning point in my life, but it definitely was. I read In the Eye of the Sun and it deeply touched me. I never identified with a character in a novel as I did with Asya. I then read her two books of short stories, Aisha & Sandpiper, and her second novel The Map of Love. I loved each one of them and wanted more. So I read all her articles that were available on the internet, then I reread In the Eye of the Sun, yes each and every word on the 800+ pages. I later read Mezzaterra & her translation of Murid Barghouti's I saw Ramallah & still wanted more.
By that time, I became confident that I have found my favorite novelist, and in spite of Margret Atwood's quote mentioned in this blog, I wanted to meet or at least know more about the person behind the pages. I emailed her. I remember that the question I sent her was very stupid, so I was truly surprised when she replied and her reply was sweet, humble, and graceful.
Ahdaf, who is a renowned and celebrated novelist in the west, could have easily gained more money and fame had she not chosen to embrace a brave stance on two issues:
- She recognized that Arab women writers' text is liable to misuse, and more so her own text since she writes in English, so she avoided controversial issues or discussed them with a sensitivity and an honesty that avert any misuse or misinterpretation.
- She repeatedly reflected her political beliefs in her work without any consideration to the expected aggression and assault of the Zionist machine and its supporters in the west. This stance might have cost her the Booker prize, but her reply was to intensify her activist work. Although she might have preferred to concentrate more on writing novels, after the death of her friend Edward Said, she did not hesitate in carrying the banner of the Palestinian cause.
Thank you for your work, and for giving me an Egyptian role model I respect and love.
Thank you for helping me become a better, and less apathetic person.
Thank you for introducing me to the wonderful world of Arab Women Writers.
Thank you for introducing me to the thought and work of the great Edward Said.
Thank you for bettering my sense of humor. My kids say that in the past couple of years, my jokes have gone from K.G. level to second grade, or even third grade level on some days.
your biggest fan,
Check Ahdaf Soueif's site at: ahdafsoueif.com