Soueif Profile

Regular readers of this blog probably know of my obsession with Ahdaf Soueif. In The Eye of The Sun, remains one of my all-time favorite novels, and her story collections, Aisha and Sandpiper, are ones I often pull out of my shelves to re-read. (I didn’t, however, care as much for A Map of Love.) Soueif has a new book out, a collection of essays titled Mezzaterra, that should be coming out in the U.S. in October.

The Guardian‘s Aida Edemariam provides a lengthy profile of Soueif, which focuses a bit more on her political activism and her essays than on her fiction (natural, I suppose, since she addresses politics in Mezzaterra.) I was a bit suprised, though, to hear about Samir el-Youssef’s reaction to Soueif’s work.

Last year, she published her first volume of non-fiction, Mezzaterra, which includes [pieces of reportage from Palestine], as well as book reviews; read together, they have one overwhelming urge: to isolate and attempt to neutralise the damage the west inflicts on the Arab world at the level of the word – the thoughtless objectifications, the passive constructions, the essentialisations and impositions that go towards subtly dehumanising and creating an enemy.

Not everyone approves of her activities: Jewish peace activists have complained that she plays down their efforts; and there are Palestinians who would rather she directed her energies elsewhere. “She is a typical Arab intellectual who wants to send Palestinians anywhere apart from their own countries,” says Samir el-Youssef, a Palestinian writer exiled in London. “I cannot trust it. Nothing is easier than to attack Israel, but are you willing to look at your own society? This is the real challenge.” He says he was “appalled” by a 2004 Guardian piece in which she asked Palestinian authors how the occupation affected them: “It’s a typical Arab attitude to Palestinian literature, that Palestinians don’t write literature, they are just there to do propaganda, to make people feel sorry for them. It’s supposed to show solidarity, but what it shows is superiority.” Furthermore, “I don’t find very flattering” the idea that she’d go around “championing Palestinians in the west as victims. That’s taking something away from Palestinians, and I don’t feel very comfortable with that.”

The piece that el-Youssef is referring is archived here, so you can read it and judge for yourself. I think el-Youssef is being a little unfair, but it’s good to see that there is disagreement, even if it’s via the media rather than in vivo. At this point, I’m just happy that the article mentions that Soueif is taking a few months off to work on fiction–it’s been too long since she’s put out anything.