Elevate Difference

I Think of You: Stories

The stories in Ahdaf Soueif’s book collectively form the multivoiced memoir of a woman growing up with academic parents in Cairo and in England and on the cultural margins of both places. Her first narrative, “Knowing,” told in the charmingly declarative voice of a child, tells of the wonders of the Cairo marketplace: fingering guavas, nibbling at the sheep head on a snack tray, sneaking a puff on a waterpipe. Here her world is ordered and patterned, “overflowing with an abundance of pleasures.”

The stories proceed, in progressively maturing voices, sometimes related in the third person, to convey the pain of transition. She is in England for the “Year of the Beatles,” but it is as an outsider: as one who loves the teddy boys and rockers, but is ignored by them in return. She envelopes herself in romantic literature (in many respects, this is an autobiography of a reading life) and increasingly isolates herself from a racist, fiercely class conscious world. Her account of discovering Fanny Hill and the Kama Sutra in her parents’ bedroom becomes a hilarious epiphany at the end of “1964”—one of many memorable moments in the book.

The adult narrative voice is reminiscent of Kate Chopin’s—as evocative, elegant, and simple in its rendering of a woman’s experience of love and childbirth—the sweet and terrible alienation of the individual who refuses to be simply a “mother woman” or conform to some other cultural stereotype. In fact, the ending of the book is eerily suggestive of the conclusion of The Awakening, which is not to suggest the book is self-consciously derivative, but rather to say that it forms, subtly and gradually, a powerful emotional bond with the reader that culminates in the beautiful nothingness of the sea.

Written by: Rick Taylor, February 12th 2007