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Ahdaf Soueif's The Map of Love: Woman (Women) exiled in an Orientalist Painting


In The Map of Love (1999), both a family saga and a historical novel, Ahdaf Soueif, an Arab writer who publishes in English, stages three women from the same family facing bicultural and bilingual situations. Anna Winterbourne, the main character, is fascinated by an orientalist painting in a London museum. She enters this painting by deciding to live in Egypt. She thus exposes the ambivalence and limits of a representation which is doubly alien, since its author is both English and male. The individual and cultural re-centering of the female character in the Egyptian house is the basis for the re-centering of female speech and writing in a series of private and public crises (colonial power/West vs Nationalism/East…). This of course is not without ambiguity since the novelist creates mixed characters in a Western language. Ahdaf Soueif proposes a solution to the problem of female cultural identity by looking for deeper, more ancient and universal roots, while replacing them in a seemingly less problematic national context; she intertwines genres and narrative voices in her quest for a feminine genre that would not find its source in writing only but would seek its unity in diversity.

SvD, May 2009

  • Publications > Volumes WomenWriters > Crossroads of Languages > Jondot

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