"The Map of Love" is the story of two intricately intertwined stories separated by a hundred years of history. Lady Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, travels to Egypt in 1900 where she meets Sharif Pasha al-Barudi, an Egyptian Nationalist, high-born and utterly committed to his country's cause. For Sharif, Anna at first represents the pseudo-benign snobberies of colonialist Britain. For her, Sharif represents the real, secret Egypt. The couple fall in love and marry, but fearfully. Can Anna really turn herself into an Oriental wife? Can Sharif adjust to Anna's Englishness? And will the real world, the unloving world of history and politics, give them a chance to try?
These questions have a powerful significance for the heroine of the book's second story: Isabel Parkman, an American divorcee and a descendant of Anna and Sharif. In 1997, Isabel meets and falls in love with Omar-al-Ghamrawi, a New York-based Egyptian who also has blood links to the Anna-Sharif marriage. Isabel decides to make a trip to Egypt, looking for answers to questions she has scarcely framed yet. She carries with her an old family trunk, which she delivers to Omar's sister Amal in Cairo. In the trunk are the notebooks and journals in which Anna confided the story of her love affair with Sharif and with Egypt. As Isabel, with Amal's help, pieces together the story of Anna's relationship, she finds that it has far more to do with her own than she had realized.
Ahdaf Soueif's triumph in this subtle, wise and moving novel is two-fold: she unerringly illuminates the historical and political intensities that govern even the most personal relationships, but she also makes us understand that "what will survive of usis love". This is a heart-piercing story of two love affairs: one fiercely up-to-date, the other long-ago but no less passionate. It is a story of Empire, of Egypt, a story of the century captured in compelling close-up.