The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif: Book Review

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The Map of Love

3 Stars

The Map of Love tells two stories. Primarily, it is about Anna Winterbourne, living in the early 1900s, and her fascination with Egypt. In the present, Isabel Parkman and Amal al-Ghamrawi have found a trunk of Anna’s journals and letters and set out to piece together her story, while living their own.

The writing in this book was beautiful. There were some parts where the author seemed to be trying to show what a colorful, vibrant place her Egypt is and those just glowed. But my problem with beautiful writing is that I very often get bogged down and get bored and wish I could just get on with the story. I wish it didn’t happen, but it does. That happened for me here.

I really enjoyed reading Anna’s story. She’s an interesting, brave woman who isn’t afraid to break out of the mold that’s been made for her. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stand Isabel and I was indifferent to Amal.

I’m not exactly sure what the point of the book was. There definitely was a message, I just can’t decide how to take it. As an American reading a book by an Egyptian author, I’m afraid of misreading something. But, right or wrong, what I took away was the author trying to tell me that there’s more to her country than what I see in the news, and the problems that exist began in colonial times under British rule, but now under their own rule they aren’t doing any better. The poor are still oppressed and nothing seems to be changing. I hope I didn’t read all that wrong.

That being said, I got bogged down in the politics, both present and past. I don’t know anything about Egyptian history and it felt like that was almost necessary to be able to read between the lines and accurately see what the author was trying to show me. This was written in 1999 and there’s one section about American foreign policy and Islamic radicals. That was a little eerie to read post-9/11.

There were tons of names in this book. Enough to make me think of Anna Karenina. With at least half of them being Egyptian names, I just gave up and hoped that I would figure out the main players as I went. I think I did, but I hate when authors do that. Even the British names were hard to keep up with. Just too much.

This is such a little thing, but it drove me crazy for a while. Every chapter started on the left-hand page. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Well, I must have some sort of OCD about that because I could not get over it for the longest time. I just felt “off.” Fortunately every chapter also starts with a quote by itself on the right-hand page before the chapter starts and I was able to start thinking of that as the first page of the chapter, but it really was killing me at first.

So, beautiful writing, Egyptian politics both past and present. If you’re interested, go ahead and pick this up. Anna’s story really was good, the rest of it just confused me.

Reviewed August 12, 2009

Read an excerpt.

Find author Ahdaf Soueif on her website.

Buy The Map of Love at


Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore, and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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