Ahdaf Soueif
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“Ahdaf Soueif bridges the two worlds in a highly unusual and richly impressive first novel. One awaits her next with great expectations.” Christopher Wordsworth, Guardian

The ‘Eight Chapters’ of Aisha begin with a returning. They form a cycle in which lives converge in London. Cairo, Alexandria and Paris – in which Aisha comes and goes from focus, always to return again.

We meet Aisha on her home coming to Cairo, a scene she had always imagined in detail, now distorted by the souvenirs of her estranged husband. We see her at fifteen in London, a self-styled misfit: with the tartan kilt and manners of a Westernized Egyptian bourgeois intellectual and the soul of a Rocker. We go back further still to the candy and fireworks of Ramadan. Aisha climbing over the back of her holy grandmother who is prostrated in prayer, until she can suppress her laughter no longer.

Through Aisha we are told of chapters in other lives. Her nurse Zeina, who comes from a family of butchers and claims she ‘knows how their minds work’, tells the enthralled eight-year-old of the terrifying ritual preparation and ‘test’ that preceded her wedding night. In another chapter Zeina recalls here fury when her husband took a second wife and the ingenious revenge she devised, sharing a bed with her sensual rival. We meet Aisha ’s impossibly fussy friend Mimi who rejects a parade of suitors on grounds that their ears, trousers or shoes are unacceptable, until she loses her heart to a genuine scoundrel and learns to be more lenient. There is a story of young Yosri, who finds it impossible to put his mind to a job until he is made apprentice to Aisha ’s hairdresser at the Salon Romance, and only hopes that the customers cannot detect how passionately he loves to wash their hair.

Coming round full circle to the promise of a retuning, the last of the eight chapters is a tale of saints and demons, in which Aisha is plunged into a miasma of Bacchanalian presences as she vainly tries to appease her ubiquitous ‘familiar’. Aisha is a feast of many different flavours, a fascinating debut by a writer of tremendous talent.

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