Ahdaf Soueif is a distinguished novelist of whom the late Edward Said noted “she has put Arab society and culture before the English reader with great ingenuity and inventiveness.” Her ‘The Map of Love’ was short listed for The Booker Prize in 1999. Born in Cairo in1950, her further studies were at the University of Lancaster where she completed a PhD in linguistics. She has had spells as a university teacher at the University of Cairo and King Saud University in Riyadh.
Her recent writing indicates a shift from the world of romance and the past to a commitment to do something about the harsher tragedies unfolding in the Muslim world today. She has translated Mourid Barghouti’s “I Saw Ramallah”, and in 2004 published her first volume of non-fiction, ‘Mezzaterra’ (the common ground between cultures). The reviewer Guy Mannes-Abbott notes “Souief is transfixed by the Palestinian uprising. She writes, contra Said, of having always felt ‘essentially in place: Egyptian, Muslim’. So, writing about Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians in front of a wilfully diverted world, her combination of centred gravity, minute precision and insistent humanity generates highly clarified truth. The truth makes for bleak reading, as her nightmares materialise in massive Israeli settlements”.
She is also emerging as an astute and witty commentator of social and poltical developments in Egypt. In a recent diary of her time in Cairo, she described a joke doing the rounds: it has a Mubarak aide suggesting, “Mr President, shouldn’t we draft a speech for you saying goodbye to the Egyptian people?” Mubarak: “Why? Are the Egyptian people going somewhere?”
She was married to the late Ian Hamilton, poet, editor and biographer.