In this small-scale and intimate first collection of stories by Ahdaf Soueif there is a remarkably productive, somewhat depressing tension between the anecdotal surface of modern, Westernised Egyptian life and the troubling, often violent but always persisting traditional forms beneath. In one story, cajoled and pleaded to by her family and importunate suitors, Marianne is nevertheless seduced by an engineer whose Eau Sauvage, silk robe and Zamalek flat are to her the height of an irresistible worldliness: after she becomes his mistress it is discovered, however, that he runs a vice ring. Her brief revolt against the code governing nubile women is thereafter quelled, and she marries an uninteresting bourgeois who perfectly suits her family's idea of what a good husband should be. Contrasted with this, Zeina's marriage (Zeina is a lower-class foil for Aisha and Marianne, both Egyptian women inhabiting the world of half-European attitudes, foreign travel and university learning) is consummated in ritual fashion with the bridegroom's bandaged finger brutally deflowering her in full view of her family, whose 'honour' has thus been served. Ironically, Zeina later confesses that she likes her 'big' husband, and contrives a clever way of ridding herself of his new, second wife. Marianne, on the other hand, settles despondently into a life of correct but dull domesticity.
LRB 7 July 1983 | PDF Download