Good Reading : August 2010
14 goodreading ı AUGUST 2010 book city 1 capturing cairo Whether you’re preparing for your trip or want to travel without leaving your home, LACHLAN JOBBINS knows which books will inspire the essence of Cairo. People have always been drawn by Egypt's mystique. Around 450 BC, Herodotus described the already ancient pyramids in his Histories. Alexander the Great followed a few hundred years later, then the Romans (who defeated Cleopatra and Antony), and then the Arabs in 642 AD. The Ottoman Turks ruled from 1517, and after Napoleon's unsuccessful invasion (during which his scientists uncovered the Rosetta Stone), European travellers and self-styled Egyptologists began 'rediscovering' ancient Egypt. Early modern visitors included Mark Twain (The Innocents Abroad), Gustave Flaubert (Flaubert in Egypt: A sensibility on tour) and Florence Nightingale. In 1838, David Roberts made his famous lithographs of street scenes. By 1860, Thomas Cook was organising tours to Egypt, and Cairo was a common bridging point for those travelling further afield. The Victorian era saw the height of popular fascination with ancient Egypt. Carter's discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb and the mummy's curse continue to be rich fodder for popular fiction. Later, Agatha Christie sent Poirot there in Death on the Nile, and who could forget Indiana Jones seeking clues there in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The best way to get past the perfume and papyrus shops to the 'real' Cairo is to read. On a recent trip there, I stumbled into the American University in Cairo bookshop, where the cream of contemporary Egyptian writing is available in Arabic and English. Here are a few recommendations: Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz Egypt's most celebrated novelist won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. The first book in his 'Cairo Trilogy' is set just before the revolution of 1919. It's about the dynamics of a traditional patriarchal Muslim household, the oppression (or submission) of the women, and the secrets families keep. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany Set during the first Gulf War, the bestselling Arab novel of 2002-2003 is equal parts soap opera and social critique. It's a rich, funny (and occasionally shocking) picture of a place in which people are just doing their best to survive. The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif Probably the best known contemporary Egyptian writer in English, Soueif lives in the UK. Her Booker-shortlisted fragmentary novel swings from present to past, exploring romantic and political entanglements between Egypt and England.