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Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground
     

Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground

by Ahdaf Soueif
 

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From the bestselling author of the Booker Prize finalist The Map of Love–an incisive collection of essays on Arab identity, art, and politics that seeks to locate the mezzaterra, or common ground, in an increasingly globalized world.
The twenty-five years’ worth of criticism and commentary collected here have earned Ahdaf Soueif a place among

Overview

From the bestselling author of the Booker Prize finalist The Map of Love–an incisive collection of essays on Arab identity, art, and politics that seeks to locate the mezzaterra, or common ground, in an increasingly globalized world.
The twenty-five years’ worth of criticism and commentary collected here have earned Ahdaf Soueif a place among our most prominent Arab intellectuals. Clear-eyed and passionate, and syndicated throughout the world, they are the direct result of Soueif’s own circumstances of being “like hundreds of thousands of others: people with an Arab or a Muslim background doing daily double-takes when faced with their reflection in a western mirror.” Whether an account of visiting Palestine and entering the Noble Sanctuary for the first time, an interpretation of women who choose to wear the veil, or her post—September 11 reflections, Soueif’s intelligent, fearless, deeply informed essays embody the modern search for identity and community.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Soueif is a political analyst and commentator of the best kind.” –London Review of Books

“Marvellous. . . . A writer of special importance. . . . Her combination of centred gravity, minute precision and insistent humanity generates highly clarified truth.” –The Independent

Publishers Weekly
When Booker Prize finalist Soueif (The Map of Love) moved from Egypt to London in 1984 to live with her husband, she became one of thousands of "people with an Arab or a Muslim background living in the West and doing daily double-takes when faced with their reflection in a Western mirror." Her sense of the disconnection between Arab life as she knew it and its portrayal in Western media only deepened after the Persian Gulf War began, the second intifada erupted and America invaded Iraq. For the past four years she has found "the situation so grave [that she has] written hardly anything that does not have direct bearing on it." The 38 pieces collected here-some are works of reporting; most are essayistic book reviews-establish Soueif as the intellectual heir to Edward Said, the Palestinian scholar who was a personal friend of hers until his death in 2003. Like Said, Soueif insists that "the discord between the Arab world and the US is entirely to do with Israel." She speaks longingly of the 1960s, when, she says, political tensions were low enough that Arabs and Westerners could meet on common ground and "differences were interesting rather than threatening, because they were foregrounded against a backdrop of affinities." Though she sometimes appeals to emotion over hard facts, her prose reads smoothly and her observations on the misery inflicted by recent conflicts are thoughtful indeed. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Are Islam and Western culture condemned to dangerous mutual estrangement and the "clash of civilizations," or is it still possible to bridge their religiopolitical divide? That is one of the more prominent themes of this collection of nearly 40 essays by Egyptian British novelist and commentator Soueif that are in part "the direct product of interactions between [her and] life in the UK." In addition to reviews of selected works by writers such as Jean Genet, Edward Said, and Amitav Ghosh, this collection includes commentaries and opinions about the events and aftermath of 9/11, Muslim women who choose to wear the veil, the notorious pan-Arab TV station Aljazeera, and the Palestinian predicament and uprisings. Known as one of the most widely read Arab fiction writers in English, Soueif here offers mostly political analyses that desperately seek common cultural ground (mezzaterra), mutual understanding, and affinity between the Western and Arab cultures in terms of values, ideals, and historical precedent. Soueif's first book-length work of nonfiction is highly recommended for all large collections. Her acclaimed novels-Aisha, Sandpiper, In the Eye of the Sun, and The Map of Love-would also make great additions to literature collections.-Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A mixed bag of political essays, journalism, book reviews and occasional pieces on aspects of life in the Middle East-a region that, novelist and translator Soueif writes, the Western media persistently misunderstand and misinterpret. Refreshingly, Soueif opens by urging that, rather than be the actors in a clash of civilizations, the West and the Arab world can find some middle ground-a mezzaterra, in Italian, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean-on which to meet and perhaps even wage peace. "Growing up Egyptian in the 60s," she writes, "meant growing up Muslim/Christian/Egyptian/Arab/African/Mediterranean/non-aligned/socialist but happy with small-scale capitalism." Alas, hearts and minds have hardened since then, such that her energies have had to go not into planning the details of this middle ground but into proving that it once existed at all. Soueif's literary and cultural essays are the strongest part of the collection. In one, she does a nice job of gently lampooning the foreign travelers who come to Egypt expecting a kind of Disneyland with pyramids, where tourists dress in "brilliant Arabian Nights pantaloons" while hotel doormen turn away real Arabs who might ruin the atmosphere with reminders of modern reality. In another, she examines the Palestinian literary community and the mezzaterranean possibilities it offers to the region. Soueif reminds readers that Arab society is not monolithic nor motivated entirely and specifically by religion, even though the Western press "attributes simple and immediate motivation to Arabs and Muslims as though they were all single-celled creatures." Against these, however, work Soueif's insistent assertions that Israel is the root of allevil in the region, though she still scores points: "It looks as though the parent will be taught by the child: airborne attacks on civilian populations, illegal detentions, use of torture in interrogation, targeted assassinations worldwide, these have been the stock-in-trade of the Israeli state for fifty years and now America looks to follow suit.""Fragments" marred by inconsistencies.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400096633
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/11/2005
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
866,450
Product dimensions:
7.99(w) x 5.19(h) x 0.76(d)

Meet the Author

Ahdaf Soueif was born in Cairo. She is the author of Aisha, Sandpiper, In the Eye of the Sun, and the bestselling novel The Map of Love, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999. She also has translated from the Arabic the award-winning memoir I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti.

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