Anchor, 516 pp., $14 (paper)
Isabel Parkman opens a trunk, and that is how Ahdaf Soueif's glorious novel, The Map of Love, begins. The trunk had belonged to Isabel's great-grandmother, Anna Winterbourne, and while Isabel sifts through its contents, exclaiming "over the daintiness of the smocking on the child's frock ... the lustre of candle glass," she finds journals and yellowed papers, many written in Arabic. She travels to Cairo, Egypt, where her great-grandmother's love story took place, and where Isabel's own past, and future, await discovery. It is a great compliment to Ahdaf Soueif that, in reading A Map of Love, which is made up of letters and voices that span a century and a few continents, I found myself so entranced that I stopped flipping back to the family tree in the front of the book. The love stories that take place are all firmly rooted in Egyptian soil, and to Soueif's characters, political conviction is as important as romance. Not to worry: While Souief covers a great deal of Egyptian history and politics over the course of the novel, he never withholds the romance.
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