The Late Twentieth Century: 1960-2000 - Short Fiction

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What are the themes in Adhaf Soueif's "Sandpiper"?

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One of the overall themes of this excellent short story is that of cultural incompatibility. The narrator, as a European white woman, reflects on the way that she has never fitted in to Egyptian society, even though she has married an Egyptian man, and as a result, she is left isolated and on the fringes of this culture. The reminiscences of the narrator when she first started her married life in Egypt are full of examples of how she found it difficult to adapt to another culture. Note how she had to adapt to somebody else doing shopping and cooking:

The meals I planned never worked out. Um Sabir cooked what was best in the market on that day. If I tried to do the shopping the prices trebled. I arranged the flowers, smoothed out the pleats in the curtains and presided over our dinner-parties.

In the same way, the narrator is unable to eat fruit and vegetables unless they are washed "in red permanganate" first to clean them. This is a very visible symbol of the way that she does not fit in nor will ever fit in, unlike her daughter who was born in Egypt. The text therefore raises the theme of the impossibility of entering another culture completely, and how such attempts only leave the person stranded on the fringes of that culture rather than being able to enter it completely.

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