In the Eye of the Sun

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This densely detailed, richly textured novel impeccably recreates the milieus of Cairo, London and English university life as it recounts the maturing of Asya, a beautiful Egyptian who, by her own admission, “feels more comfortable with art than with life.”

Soueif, a Londoner making her American debut, tells Asya’s story cinematically, beginning in 1979 and going back to 1967, with chapters formally divided into scenes and a plethora of flashbacks, flash-forwards and different perspectives. During the course of those years, Asya, daughter of an intellectual Cairo family, falls in love with and marries Saif, a highly successful computer expert who indulges her with considerable luxuries.

But the marriage is plagued by sexual problems; going to England to pursue a doctorate, Asya eventually takes up with Gerald, a pseudo-sensitive boor studying marketing. Finally, her marriage over, she returns to a very different and less hospitable Cairo than the one in which she grew up to begin a teaching career about which she is, at best, ambivalent.

The author invests scenes of childhood with the burnished glow of fond memory; these are among the most poignant passages here. Her impressive and only slightly overlong novel, with its acutely observed vision of male-female relations as a series of complex power struggles, suggests the emergence of a major new talent.

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