Eighteen years ago, Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif was asked by her publisher in London to write a book about Cairo, her city, yet she did not get around to it until a few months after the January 25 Revolution.
Cairo: My City, Our Revolution is her personal account of the first 18 days of last year's Tahrir Square uprising, which culminated in the ouster of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak. Her account is presented chronologically, beginning on 28 January 2011, the so-called Friday of Rage.
Pity… Not for my city
Soueif first signed a contract with her publisher to write a book about Cairo 18 years ago but every time she attempted put pen to paper she found herself writing a lamentation for her city, which was becoming sadder and sadder each day, and put the project aside.
During the revolution, Soueif reported for London's Guardian newspaper and her publisher suggested that maybe it was time to write her book about Cairo.
The book is about the revolution but also about Cairo and Soueif herself, who has spent the last twenty years moving between the city of her birth and London.
“If there was no contract between me and the publisher I don’t think I’d have written the book,” Soueif told her fans earlier this month in Cairo.
The writer of The Map of Love narrates the revolution's story, but inserts information about subsequent events, such as the Maspero massacre that took place in October, into the text.
Only inscribe what you heard and saw
Soueif has a distinguished writing style, yet says her style is not deliberate. “I just write like this, there’s no certain combination I follow to write the way I do, I do not choose my writing among other alternatives, I just write.”
The way to write about the revolution is, according to Soueif, to write as if you’re writing a documentary film, trying to describe the events by date and time, and the most important thing is to evoke the intensity of the events.
She decided against writing a big analysis of the revolution because it was too close to the events, she said.
The book was not the one she expected to write when she signed the contract 18 years ago, yet she was pleased with the outcome. Soueif describes the book as her first sustained piece of writing of her since 1999 when she wrote The Map of Love.
Soueif, who remains optimistic about the revolution's future because there’s no other choice, is now working on the book's Arabic edition and an updated American edition that will contain about 10,000 additional words to follow up the events that took place since Soueif finished the book on 31 October last year.