The Sandpiper

Ahdaf Soueif was born in Cairo and educated in Egypt and England. She studied for a PhD in linguistics at the University of Lancaster. Her debut novel, In the Eye of the Sun (1993), set in Egypt and England, recounts the maturing of Asya, a beautiful Egyptian who, by her own admission, “feels more comfortable with art than with life.” Her second novel The Map of Love (1999) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, has been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies.  She has also published two works of short stories, Aisha (1983) and Sandpiper(1996) – a selection from which was combined in the collection I Think Of You in 2007, and Stories Of Ourselves in 2010. Soueif writes primarily in English,  but her Arabic-speaking readers say they can hear the Arabic through the English. She was married to Ian Hamilton, a famous English literary critic.She lives in London and Cairo.
The short story Sandpiper by Ahdaf Soueif reads more like a poem than a short story. The basic elements air, water, fire and earth interplay with one another in this story highlighting the events that happen in the life of the main character. There are very few specifics; even the names of the main character are not mentioned. The place names are mentioned very rarely which gives this story a certain universality and timelessness.The story is told from the first person point of view of the central character, Lucy’s mother and Um Sabir’s daughter-in-law. This is a typical example of feminist writing.There is no intriguing plot in the story and the conflicts are mainly internal. Marital discord due to cultural differences can be cited as the theme of the story.
The narrator, Lucy’s mother, herself a writer, takes us into her first short utterance itself. It is a simple sentence which sounds like part of a private casual conversation and it sets the mood of the story.
Outside, there is a path.

The rest of the story is about how she is unable to find her own path to happiness. She had met her husband, an Egyptian, in her own country. After a long courtship of four years, they got married and every year she has
been six months in her husband’s place at Alexandria near Cairo, Egypt.
“…:twelve years ago, I met him. Eight years ago, I married him. Six years ago, I gave birth to his child.”
This cold objectivity is also heard when she talks about her motherhood.
As the story opens we see her at the beach near her husband’s home in Alexandria. She is describing how she used to spend her time at the beach. Her description tells us a lot about how she loves to see the basic elements interacting with one another. They are very gentle to each other. They chase, cajole, fondle, unite, get into each other’s being. This even forms a cycle. She is very passionate about everything in her life. She takes an interest in everything around her. The stranger the subject of her interest, the stronger her involvement. She is hungry for more and more varied experiences.
On the other hand her in-laws are very protective of her like they are generally of the women folk. It has been spelled out to her at the Cairo airport that women are considered second sex in Egypt. Coming from a more liberal land like Europe, it mattered much to her though she managed to adapt herself  to that.
After her first child was born, he husband became less passionate about her. He would have tried to harmonize her with his culture for long and then gave it up when he got really frustrated. She would have lavished all his love and time on her child, ignoring him. From the way she talks about how expectant she was when she was expecting this sound only natural. The part where she talks about how she played with her child even when it was still inside tells us that certain things are universal and do not pertain to any single culture.

7 thoughts on “The Sandpiper

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