In the Eye of the Sun

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this voluminous and detail-heavy novel, the Egyptian-born writer Ahdaf Soueif charts the life and loves of her heroine Aysa Ulama against a background of Egyptian and Middle East politics from 1967-1980. The book opens in London in 1979. Its succeeding chapters are a flashback and move chronologically through Aysa’s student days in Cairo and London, with briefer episodes in Perugia and New York. They detail Aysa’s interaction with the two principal men in her life, her husband Saif Madi and her English lover Gerald Stone, as well as with women, including her best friend Chrissie, her mother, and her aunt. The book ends with an epilogue in which Aysa, by then installed in London, revisits an Egypt much changed since the late 1960’s.

Aysa is a member of the privileged class in Cairo, where she grows up in what is presented as the end of an era of cultural flowering. The point seems to be precisely that this life of ease was at one point taken for granted in some circles in Egyptian society and required no justification. Nor is there much postcolonial rancor in this book, being found only in attenuated form, and in isolated references.

Aysa seems a failure: she does not complete a Ph.D., and seems unable to find fulfillment as a woman. Ultimately, she joins that group of literary creations of the 1970’s and 1980’s whose problem is precisely that they have had it all: the ne’er-do-wells of plenty whose problems are too many...

(The entire section is 404 words.)