I did not fully appreciate novelist Ahdaf Soueif’s new memoir Cairo: My City, Our Revolution until I read portions of the text out loud. Some of Souief’s longer sentences are scarcely readable in one breath, and only when you try to squeeze them into a single gust of air and run out halfway through you see the ambition of her undertaking. Souief wants to capture the breathless passion of the events that brought down Mubarak just over a year ago. At the same time, she wants to pack in an ode to her city, filled with memories of personal and political history and their intersections. If that were not enough, Souief admits that she only had a few months to write and edit the entire book, where some of her novels benefited from years of revision.
Cairo: My City, Our Revolution is part of what will one day be called the first wave of revolution memorial literature, rushed out by publishers to take advantage of the Arab Spring’s hold on the Western imagination. Souief, whose celebrated fiction has dealt subtly with time and memory, admits to readers that they will encounter the book with knowledge of what has happened since.
Her ambivalence over how quickly her writing might date itself manifests as a crafted flutter between tenses. “I could not write what was fast becoming the past without writing the present,” she explains, “This book is not a record of an event that’s over; it’s an attempt to welcome you into, to make you part of, an event that we’re still living.”