AHDAF SOUEIF BIOGRAPHY
Novelist Ahdaf Soueif was born in Cairo and educated in
Egypt and England, where she studied for a Ph.D. at the
University of Lancaster.
She is the author of two collections of short stories, Aisha
(1983) and Sandpiper (1996), and two novels: In the Eye of
the Sun (1992), about a young Egyptian woman's life in
Egypt and England, where she goes to study as a
postgraduate, set against key events in the history of
modern Egypt; and The Map of Love (1999), the story of a
love affair between an Englishwoman and an Egyptian
nationalist set in Cairo in 1900, secrets uncovered by the
woman's great-granddaughter, herself in love with an
Egyptian musician living in New York. The Map of Love was
shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.
In 2004, her book of non-fiction, Mezzaterra, was published.
Her latest book is a collection of short stories, I Think of You
Ahdaf Soueif lives in London and Cairo.
The narrator in this story is unwilling to disturb even ‘one grain of
sand’, and this reflects her passivity as her relationship with her
husband breaks down under cultural pressures. The relationship
with him is carefully charted, almost historically, but it is significant
that he is never named, and a sense of loss grows at the centre
of the narrative. The narrative structure includes disconcerting
juxtapositions between memory and the present to show the
narrator’s state of mind. The narrative describes a love between
the two formed elsewhere; it is the return to the husband’s
country which creates the cultural and family pressures on the
relationship, including the loss of female independence, work
and identity, which cause the couple to drift apart.
Such concerns of conflicting cultural pressures are perhaps a
natural concern of an author born and educated in Egypt,
before continuing education in England. She now divides her
time between Cairo and London.
1. Why did the woman want to avoid making patterns in the sand?
Describe how she stepped on the path?
2. Explain this quote from the first paragraph of the story.
“I had an idea that the patterns on the stone should be made by
nature alone; I did not want one grain of sand, blown by a breeze
I could not feel, to change the course because of me. What point
would there be in trying to decipher a pattern that I had caused.”
3. Describe how the woman balances and looks for the next space
not covered by sand. Is this a reflection of how she is balancing
between two cultures and countries, trying to do nothing wrong to
upset her husband’s family?
4. The seaside is a place where she seems to seek peace from the
tensions and changing husband and Egyptian culture. How is the
sea an extended metaphor for the woman’s life and the changes
that have happened? Is the sea constant or always changing?
5. What is the image that is presented where the unnamed woman
says, “I used to sit in the curve and dig my hands into the grainy,
compact sand and feel it grow wetter as my fingers went deeper
and deeper till the next rippling, frothing rush of white came and
smudged the edges of the little burrow I had made. Its walls had
collapsed and I removed my hand, covered in wet clay, soon to
revert to dry grains that I would easily brush away.
1. Does the last sentence in the above quote mirror the
woman’s attempt to try and understand what has
happened to her husband, marriage and her inability to
grasp the Egyptian way of life that is imposed on her when
she visits Egypt each summer?( look at the images of the
crumbling walls, wet hands and dry grains easily brushed
2. Why does she continually revert back to her own culture
and the way of life she experiences and lives in Britain?
Why can she not accept the Egyptian way of life?
3. Describe the imagery in paragraph 2 and what does this
metaphorical language really represent?
4. Describe the times the woman and her husband had been
happy, contented with one another and deeply in love. Use
relevant quotes to back up your answer.
5. List the style of life the couple lived in the U.K. and explain
the quotation, P731, “I thought of those things and missed
them- but with no great sense of loss. It was as though they
were all there, to be called upon, to be lived again
whenever we wanted.”
1. Explain the quite in relation to the woman’s feelings and
difficulties. “ I tried to understand that I was on the edge, the very
edge of Africa; that the vastness ahead was nothing compared to
what lay behind me…my mind could not grasp a world that was
not present to my senses.” (P371)
2. Describe the woman’s feelings towards her coming baby (p371)
3. “From where I stand now, all I can see is a dry, solid white. The
glare, the white wall, and the white path narrowing in the
distance” Explain how this refers to her state of mind, marriage
and relationship with the people of Egypt.
4. P372. What is the effect of the repetition of “I should have gone”
three times and “I should have turned, picked up my child and
gone.” How do these words impact on the woman’s situation?
5. List the things the woman finds strange in Egypt throughout the
story. What does she want to do?
6. What implications do these words have on the woman’s life and
her child? “She was born here…belonged her.” (P734) What
would happen if the mother wanted to leave her husband in
1. In her sleep she makes use of me, my breast is sometimes her
pillow, my lap her footstool. I lie content, glad to be of use.”
Explain the quote and how do you think the woman is coping
being waited on hand and foot by the family’s maid?
2. Why include the image of the Pakistani woman with her son
curled up beside her at the airport and explain the words, “All her
worldly treasure was on that sofa with her, and so she slept
3. The main character keeps referring to her trip to the African
continent and how she took notes. “I leaf through my notes. Each
one carries a comment and a description meant for him…What
story can I write?”
4. How do you think an educated, liberated woman would feel
being told about “the inferior status of women
courteouslybecause being foreign, European, on a business trip, I
was an honorary man”? (P373)
5. Is Egypt a country where women are liberated, able to make their
own decisions and live as they like or is it male dominated? Do
you think that this is something that may have driven a wedge in
the marriage with the clash of different cultural values from the
east and West?
6. Describe the parent’s relationship with their daughter.
Describe where and when the story takes place. Is the
setting important and significant to the story?
How is the story structured? Are there flashbacks or is it
Where does the climax of the story come? Is it significant?
How does the story end? (Is it with a twist, a surprise,
complete or incomplete?)
Describe the mood of the story and explain how the
author achieves this mood and atmosphere?
What main themes are portrayed in the story? Explain how
the author brings out these things clearly (e.g. through the
characters or are they stated indirectly or directly)
Why do you think Ahdaf Soueif wrote the story? Explain the
reasons in depth?
STYLE OF THE STORY
Explain Soueif’s style of writing and pick out all the
significant features that she uses in her writing. Is this story
easy to understand as well?
Describe the woman fully. Look at her
thoughts and actions and how she relates
to others in the story. Comment on how the
author has shown her in the story and is she
believable.(Is she presented as a real, full
Comment on the husband’s character and
explain how he is presented in the story.
Does the husband seem a more open
character who is able to embrace both
cultures with having any hang-ups?
1. The woman hints at fear being misplaced in Kaduna, Africa.”And hand in hand with the fear
that swept over me was a realisation that fear was misplaced, that everybody knew (the
vultures) were there and still went about their business.”
2. The woman also survived the crash landing of the plane she was a passenger in.
3. Do you feel she could easily overcome her fears and reluctance to embrace her husband’s
culture and way of life for a short time each year if she really wanted to? What do you think is
stopping her? (Back up your answer with relevant quotes from the story.
4. How does Lucy describe Heaven? What is her purpose for doing this?
5. Explain the woman’s words, “Yes, I am sick –but not just for home. I am sick for a time that was
and that I can never have again. A lover I had and can never have again.”
6. Describe how the husband has changed and explain how this has affected his relationship
with his wife. Also find evidence from the text to show the state of the marriage now.
7. Is the mother jealous that Lucy is fussed over and looked after by her Egyptian relatives who
only see her in the summer for a short while? Shouldn’t she be grateful that she can rest and
bee spoilt for a short time? Give your reasons in depth for the mother’s behaviour and do you
think the husband’s family might find her attitude rude and offensive.
8. Explain the following words, “Lucy. My treasure, my trap”
9. Describe and explain the imagery in the last paragraph of the story. How does it apply to the
situation/marriage of the man and woman, especially “The white foam knows nothing better
than the sands which wait fir it, rise to it and suck it in. But what do the waves know of the
massed hot sands of the dessert just twenty, no, ten feet beyond the scalloped edge? What
does the beach know of the depths? The cold. The currents just there, there…”