‘In the eye of the sun’ by Ahdaf Soueif: A timeless and heartbreaking Egyptian love story

Although this book came out nearly 15 years ago, ‘In the Eye of the Sun’ crafted by the inspiring Ahdaf Soueif remains a work of art that should be on every woman’s bookshelf.

This novel tells the story of Asya, growing up amongst the Egyptian elite in Cairo. By tracing her life until adulthood, we get to know Asya as if she was our closest friend; we feel her pain more strongly than we allow ourselves to experience our own. Through the eyes of an innocent and young student, we see how infatuation and love can create and simultaneously destroy a person.  Unlike other books of this kind, Soueif holds nothing back, with the sexual problems between Asya’s and her true love and husband Seif taking a center stage in the story. We get to experience, as if it were first hand, the implications of sexual repression and the internalized fears and doubts related to a woman’s sexuality that still feature so heavily in Egyptian society today.

After Asya moves to England to undertake a PhD whilst her husband travels for work, we experience the struggles of assimilation, the pressure of sexual desire and the burning guilt of engaging in an affair. Frustration and annoyance towards the main female protagonist will feature heavily as you read, due to Asya’s often timid and subservient approach, but that frustration is born from the genuine care that you develop for her.

Family, romantic relationships and friendships are all dissected in glorious detail, bringing every interaction to life as if by magic. Featuring the political turmoil in Egypt with interjections from the 1973 war and Communist activists going missing as well as the changing dynamics of Cairo throughout Asya’s life, Soueif places the novel firmly in a historical context. We observe how the surroundings in which a child and then a young woman grows up in shapes her developing mind and defines her character. Although this novel is long, pages fly quickly past as you bury yourself into this heart-breakingly relatable world.

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