January 2, 2008

Sun spots?

Wait a minute: did I miss something? Here's the plot summary of Soueif's In the Eye of the Sun given in a reputable reference source:
Aisha [one of Soueif's earlier characters] reappears as Asya in In the Eye of the Sun, a novel about a feminist's failed marriage to a dry intellectual that has parallels to George Eliot's Middlemarch. Moving between various Middle Eastern cities and using passages from Arab newspapers, this long, detailed novel recalls the anti-Western politics Gamel Abdel Nasser, his death, the 1967 war with Israel, and the rise of Anwar Sadat. Asya ignores public events, tries to immerse herself in Western culture, but is forced into an arranged marriage with impotent Saif, who works for Syrian intelligence. Unhappy with her marriage she studies in England for a doctorate, sees in England's monuments symbols of imperialism and exploitation of Arabs, blames England for the creation of Israel, and becomes disenchanted with English literature. Bogged down in research at a provincial university, she starts an affair. Learning of the affair, Saif accuses her of selfishness and ignoring the consequences of her actions on others. Seeing the parallel between her personal life and her neglect, as an intellectual, of Egypt, she returns home where she teaches birth control while wanting a child of her own.
I've only read In the Eye of the Sun once so far, but I'm not sure the author of this source has read it at all--or else I read it very badly! First, I probably would not label Asya a "feminist," unless that's what you call any independent-minded woman. Second, Saif is not a "dry intellectual"; it's Asya, actually, who comes closest to being that for a while, through her linguistic analysis of metaphors (which I thought was meant as a kind of 'key to all mythologies'). Third, theirs is not an "arranged marriage" and, far from being forced into it, Asya yearns for it and idealizes it. Fourth, Saif is not impotent; the sexual problems in their marriage arise from Asya's fears of intercourse. Fifth, she does not go to England because she is unhappy with her marriage, as this summary implies. Sixth, I didn't notice meditations on imperialism or exploitation of the kind described here, though of course these are themes explored (in a more nuanced way, I thought) in the novel. Seventh, OK, she does start an affair, but (importantly) it's with an idiot. Eighth, is that why she goes back to Egypt? I suppose that may be an interpretive question, but most of these other points are pretty straightforward ones. It was a disorienting experience (no pun intended?) staring at this paragraph.

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