Study Guide

A Border Passage Memory and the Past

By Leila Ahmed

Memory and the Past

Ahmed realizes two important things about memory in this work: 1) It's crucial to an autobiography, which is pretty much a recollection of things past; 2) It's completely subjective and unreliable.

As such, she has to do some strategic hedging. Sometimes, she's unsure if her memory is accurate—or if her perspective is skewed by her youth or prejudices. Ahmed wants to account for all of this, so she often revisits important events and tells them from different perspectives.

Because Ahmed acknowledges how slippery memory can be, her work feels especially self-aware and analytical. She even speaks of remembering as a "forensic exercise," a kind of personal archaeology where she digs up pieces of the past and tries to understand how they helped her onto the path she currently walks.

It's a difficult task because Ahmed isn't just carrying personal memories—she's also unpacking the memories of a nation, a culture, and a gender. No pressure there.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Why is Ahmed so concerned with memory and the process of remembering?
  2. Why does Ahmed tell certain stories more than once in her work?
  3. What types of memories does Ahmed include in this book? Do you feel surprised or caught off guard by anything she chooses to include here?
  4. In what ways does the inclusion of historical information affect Ahmed's personal narrative?

Chew on This

Ahmed chooses to include a historical narrative within her personal story because she feels that her identity depends on factors beyond her home life.

Ahmed "excavates" her memories in order to get at the roots of her personal identity—not really to tell the story of Egypt.