Mapping the divide

From The Guardian:

Soueifmccabe128_1A few weeks ago, as she often does these days, Ahdaf Soueif ascended a stage, and addressed a large crowd. This time it was the premiere of the Palestine Film Festival, in London, and though she was somewhat hesitant, and shuffled her papers nervously, her voice was clear, her message clearer: when she was six years old, she told the assembly, her father took her to a film in which a little boy entered a forbidden room and encountered a monstrous robot. It advanced and advanced and advanced, and entered her nightmares for years to come. “Sometimes it seems that that’s what’s happening in Palestine.” The documentary she was introducing, Arna’s Children, about Jewish pro-Palestinian activist Arna Mer Kemis, is moving, but also troubling: in her zeal to teach them to express themselves, to channel their anger, Arna seems to be encouraging the children in her theatre group to participate in the intifada; by the time they reach their 20s many are dead.

Soueif has just returned from speaking engagements in Qatar, Santa Fe and Vienna when we meet, and is looking forward to a few clear months working on fiction at home in Wimbledon before the annual summer trip to Egypt, where she was born. She perches on the edge of a blue divan in the bay window of her living room. Traffic sweeps past outside. The low table in front of her is piled high with books – Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda by Noam Chomsky; Human Cargo by Caroline Moorehead; Derailing Democracy: The America the Media Don’t Want You to See, by David McGowan; an exhibition catalogue, Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth; various volumes in Arabic. Soueif is like a weathervane, open to gusts of passi on, of emotion, just controlled; she smokes furiously, talking through the deep breaths, pushing heavy black hair away from her face. But intensity also switches quickly to laughter; she is warm, and empathetic, and generous, and when her son Ricki, 16 this month, gets back from school, loving and sharply solicitous about his GCSE art coursework.

More here.