Books Set In Egypt: Egyptian Novels
This list of books set in Egypt is one I’ve been compiling for quite a while! With one of the longest histories of any country, Ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments in writing. From inscriptions to collections of papyrus, these were the precursors to the modern book we know today. This list aims to capture a diverse range of modern accounts from foreigners and natives alike, with everything from mystery novels set in ancient Egypt to contemporary literary fiction in translation.
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Naguib Mahfouz is one of the most widely-read Egyptian authors in this list of books set in Egypt, and is considered one of the first contemporary writers of Arabic literature. He was the first Egyptian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and many of the 30+ novels he published are included below. His most widely-read works include The Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street), Children of the Alley, The Harafish and Midaq Alley. Known for his realistic portrayal of Egyptian city life, many of his works are set in the alleys, houses, palaces and mosques of Cairo.
Another essential author included in this list is Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian author, activist, doctor and psychiatrist; known for her feminist writings on social justice. Her works are centred on the subject of women in Islam and include Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, Woman at Point Zero, The Hidden Face of Eve and Memoirs from the Women’s Prison.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction
This list of books set in Egypt also includes many Egyptian nominees and winners of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the most prestigious literary prize in the Arab world. The following Egyptian titles are some of those that have been translated into English, and appear in the much longer list below.
- 2008 Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Winner)
- 2008 Cairo Swan Song (aka Swan Song) by Mekkawi Said
- 2009 Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan (Winner)
- 2009 Hunger: An Egyptian Novel by Mohamed El-Bisatie
- 2010 A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore by Mohamed al-Mansi Qandil
- 2011 Brooklyn Heights by Miral al-Tahawy
- 2012 Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine C. Fishere
- 2013 The Televangelist (aka Our Master) by Ibrahim Essa
- 2014 Clouds Over Alexandria by Ibrahim Abdel Meguid
- 2017 In the Spider’s Room by Muhammed Abdelnabi
- 2018 The Girl With Braided Hair (aka Passion) by Rasha Adly
Books Set In Egypt: The Shortlist
If I could only choose a handful of books set in Egypt from the much longer list below:
- Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
- Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
- The Open Door by Latifa al-Zayyat
- Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
- The Tent by Miral al-Tahawy
- The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
- The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany
- Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher
Books Set In Egypt
1. Death on the Nile (Hercule Poirot #17) by Agatha Christie, 1937
The tranquillity of a cruise along the Nile is shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway has been shot through the head. She was young, stylish and beautiful, a girl who had everything – until she lost her life. Hercule Poirot recalls an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: ‘I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.’ Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems.
2. Diary of a Country Prosecutor by Tawfiq Al-Hakim, 1937
Diary of a Country Prosecutor is an Egyptian comedy of errors. Partly autobiographical, it is written as the journal of a young public prosecutor posted to a village in rural Egypt. Imbued with the ideals of a European education, he encounters a world of poverty and backwardness where an imported legal system is both alien and incomprehensible. Who shot Kamar al-Dawla Alwan? Was it a crime of passion? What was the role of the beautiful peasant girl Rim? Is the mysterious Sheikh Asfur as crazy as he seems?
3. Khufu’s Wisdom (The Egyptian Trilogy #1) by Naguib Mahfouz, Raymond Stock (Translator) 1939
Note: this title is also known as Mockery of the Fates.
At the center of Khufu’s Wisdom, Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s majestic first novel, is the legendary Fourth Dynasty monarch Khufu (Cheops), for whom the Great Pyramid of Giza was built. When a seer prophesies the end of Khufu’s dynasty and the ascension to the throne of Djedefra, son of the High Priest of Ra, the pharaoh must battle to preserve his legacy against the will of the Fates. But in the face of the inexorable attraction between Djedefra and Princess Meresankh, Khufu’s beautiful daughter, Khufu must consider not only his personal ambition and the opposing decree of the heavens, but also how the wisdom he prides himself on as a ruler will guide him in determining the fate of his daughter’s heart.
4. Rhadopis of Nubia (The Egyptian Trilogy #2) by Naguib Mahfouz, Anthony Calderbank (Translator), 1943
Naguib Mahfouz mines the riches of his homeland’s ancient past in Rhadopis of Nubia, an unforgettable love story set against the high politics of Egypt’s Sixth Dynasty. While the ravishing courtesan Rhadopis is bathing, a falcon lifts one of her golden sandals and drops it into the lap of the Pharaoh Merenra II. Upon hearing Rhadopis described as “beauty itself,” the young pharaoh decides to return Rhadopis’s sandal himself. When the two meet, they are immediately seized by a passion far stronger than their ability to resist. Thus begins a love affair that makes them the envy of Egyptian society. But blinded by their love and the extravagant attentions they lavish on each other, they ignore the growing resentment of the world around them in this extraordinary tale of star-crossed love.
5. Thebes at War (The Egyptian Trilogy #3) by Naguib Mahfouz, Humphrey Davies (Translator), 1944
Known and loved throughout Egypt as a work that celebrates the national character, Naguib Mahfouz’s Thebes at War tells of a high point in Egyptian history – ancient Egypt’s defeat of Asiatic foreigners who had dominated northern Egypt for two hundred years. With a visit from a court official and a provocative insult, the southern pharaoh’s long simmering resentment boils over, leading him to commit himself and his heirs to an epic struggle for the throne. Filled with the grand clash of armies, staggering defeats, daring escapes, and glorious victories, and written at a time when Egypt was again under the sway of foreign powers, Thebes at War is a resounding call to remember Egypt’s long and noble history.
Thebes at War
6. Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie, 1944
In this startling historical mystery, unique in the author’s canon, Agatha Christie investigates a deadly mystery at the heart of a dissonant family in ancient Egypt. Imhotep, wealthy landowner and priest of Thebes, has outraged his sons and daughters by bringing a beautiful concubine into their fold. And the manipulative Nofret has already set about a plan to usurp her rivals’ rightful legacies. When her lifeless body is discovered at the foot of a cliff, Imhotep’s own flesh and blood become the apparent conspirators in her shocking murder. But vengeance and greed may not be the only motives.
7. Khan Al-Khalili by Naguib Mahfouz, Roger Allen (Translator), 1945
The completion of Khan Al-Khalili in 1945 marked a turning point in Naguib Mahfouz’s career. Departing from the traditional themes drawn from Egyptian antiquity that characterize the author’s earlier works, Khan al-Khalili reflects instead a deep concern with the lives and problems of contemporary Egyptians. The time is 1942, the Second World War is at its height, and the Africa Campaign is raging along the northern coast of Egypt as far as El Alamein. Against this backdrop of international upheaval, the novel tells the story of the Akifs, a middle-class family that has taken refuge in Cairo’s historic and bustling Khan al-Khalili neighborhood. Believing that the German forces will never bomb such a famously religious part of the city, they seek safety among the crowded alleyways, busy cafes, and ancient mosques of the Khan, adjacent to the area where Mahfouz himself spent much of his young life.
8. Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz, William M. Hutchins (Translator), 1945
In Naguib Mahfouz’s suspenseful novel a bitter and ambitious nihilist, a beautiful and impoverished student, and a corrupt official engage in a doomed ménage à trois. Cairo of the 1930s is a place of vast social and economic inequities. It is also a time of change, when the universities have just opened to women and heady new philosophies imported from Europe are stirring up debates among the young. Mahgub is a fiercely proud student who is determined to keep both his poverty and his lack of principles secret from his idealistic friends. When he finds that there are no jobs for those without connections, out of desperation he agrees to participate in an elaborate deception. But what begins as a mere strategy for survival soon becomes much more for both Mahgub and his partner in crime, an equally desperate young woman named Ihsan.
9. Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, Trevor Le Gassick (Translator), 1947
Never has Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than in Midaq Alley, which centers around the residents of one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo. From Zaita the cripple-maker to Kirsha the café owner with a taste for young boys and drugs, to Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love, to Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley, these characters vividly evoke the sights, sounds and smells of Cairo.
10. The Beginning and the End by Naguib Mahfouz, 1949
The novel is set in Cairo in the late 1930s and deals with the trials and tribulations of a middle class family in the suburbs of Cairo who are struggling to keep out of poverty, after the death of the father, the sole breadwinner. The family comprises the mother, Samira; the eldest son, Hassan; a grown up daughter, Nefisa; and teenage sons Hussein and Hassanein. Hassan, the eldest son, leaves home and becomes a local goon managing a coffee house. His live-in relationship with a prostitute is ignored by the family so long as he is able to meet the demands of his brothers.
Note: the above blurb for this title comes from Wikipedia.
11. Palace Walk (The Cairo Trilogy #1) by Naguib Mahfouz, William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny (Translators), 1956
Palace Walk is the first novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork. The novels of the Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons – the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. The family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two world wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries.
12. Palace of Desire (The Cairo Trilogy #2) by Naguib Mahfouz, William M. Hutchins, Lorne M. Kenny and Olive E. Kenny (Translators), 1957
The sensual and provocative second volume in the Cairo Trilogy, Palace of Desire follows the Al Jawad family into the awakening world of the 1920’s and the sometimes violent clash between Islamic ideals, personal dreams and modern realities. Having given up his vices after his son’s death, ageing patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad pursues an arousing lute-player – only to find she has married his eldest son. His rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination as they test the loosening reins of societal and parental control. And Ahmad’s youngest son, in an unforgettable portrayal of unrequited love, ardently courts the sophisticated daughter of a rich Europeanised family.
13. Sugar Street (The Cairo Trilogy #3) by Naguib Mahfouz, William Maynard Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan (Translators), 1957
Sugar Street is the third and concluding volume of the celebrated Cairo Trilogy, which brings the story of Al-Sayid Ahmad and his family up to the middle of the twentieth century. Aging and ill, the family patriarch surveys the world from his housewares’s latticed balcony, as his long-suffering wife once did. While his children face middle age, it is through his grandsons that we see a modern Egypt emerging.
14. City of Love and Ashes by Yusuf Idris, R Neil Hewison (Translator), 1957
Cairo, January 1952. Egypt is at a critical point in its modern history, struggling to throw off the yoke of the seventy-year British occupation and its corrupt royalist allies. Hamza is a committed young radical, his goal to build a secret armed brigade to fight for freedom, independence, and national self-esteem. Fawziya is a woman with a mission too, keen to support the cause. Among the ashes of the city love may grow, but at a time of national struggle what place do personal feelings have beside the greater love for a shackled homeland?
15. Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El Saadawi, Catherine Cobham (Translator), 1958
Rebelling against the constraints of family and society, a young Egyptian woman decides to study medicine, becoming the only woman in a class of men. Her encounters with the other students – as well as the male and female corpses in the autopsy room – intensify her dissatisfaction with and her search for identity. She realizes men are not gods as her mother had taught her, that science cannot explain everything, and that she cannot be satisfied by living a life purely of the mind.
16. Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, Peter Theroux (Translator), 1959
Note: this title is also known as Children of Gebelawi.
The history of a Cairo alley through several generations. Successive heroes struggle to restore the rights of the people to the trust fund set up by their ancestor Gebelawi, usurped by embezzlers and tyrants. Mahfouz creates in all its detail a world on the frontier between the real and the imaginary. At a deeper level, the book is an allegory whose heroes relive the lives of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus and Muhammed. Their appearance in a modern context invites the reader to see them as human beings relevant to the present day, not as remote sacred figures – to the consternation of some traditionalists. Most controversial is the significance of Gebelawi, the immensely long-lived patriarch.
17. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, 1960
Lawrence Durrell’s series of four novels set in Alexandria, Egypt during the 1940s. The series consists of Justine (1957) Balthazar (1958) Mountolive (1958) and Clea (1960). Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive use varied viewpoints to relate a series of events in Alexandria before World War II. In Clea, the story continues into the years during the war. One L.G. Darley is the primary observer of the events, which include events in the lives of those he loves, and those he knows.
18. The Open Door by Latifa al-Zayyat, Marilyn Booth (Translator), 1960
February 1946: Cairo is engulfed by demonstrations against the British. Layla’s older brother Mahmud returns, wounded in the clashes, and the events of that fateful day mark a turning point in her life, an awakening to the world around her. Latifa al-Zayyat’s acclaimed modern classic follows Layla through her sexual and political coming of age. Her rebellious spirit seeks to free itself from the stifling social codes that dictate a young woman’s life, just as Egypt struggles to shake off the yoke of imperialist rule.
19. Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali, 1964
Set amidst the turbulence of 1950s Cairo, Beer in the Snooker Club is the story of Ram Bey, an over-educated, under-ambitious young Egyptian struggling to find out where he fits in. Ram’s favourite haunt is the fashionable Cairo Snooker Club, whose members strive to emulate English gentility; but his best friends are young intellectuals who devour the works of Sartre and engage in dangerous revolutionary activities to support Egyptian independence.
20. Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz, Frances Liardet (Translator), 1966
First published in 1966, Naguib Mahfouz’s Adrift on the Nile is an atmospheric novel that dramatizes the rootlessness of Egypt’s cosmopolitan middle class. Anis Zani is a bored and drug-addicted civil servant who is barely holding on to his job. Every evening he hosts a gathering on a houseboat on the Nile, where he and a motley group of cynical and aimless friends share a water pipe full of kif, a mixture of tobacco and marijuana. When a young female journalist – an “alarmingly serious person” – joins them and begins secretly documenting their activities, the group’s harmony starts disintegrating, culminating in a midnight joyride that ends in tragedy.
21. Miramar by Naguib Mahfouz, Fatma Moussa Mahmoud (Translator), 1967
The novel is set in 1960s Alexandria at the pension Miramar. The novel follows the interactions of the residents of the pension, its Greek mistress Mariana, and her servant, Zohra. As each character in turn fights for Zohra’s affections or allegiance tensions and jealousies arise. The story is retold four times from the perspective of a different resident each time, allowing the reader to understand the intricacies of post-revolutionary Egyptian life.
22. The Days: His Autobiography in Three Parts by Taha Hussein, 1973
The three-part autobiography of one of modern Egypt’s greatest writers and thinkers. The first part, An Egyptian Childhood (1929), is full of the sounds and smells of rural Egypt. It tells of Hussein’s childhood and early education in a small village in Upper Egypt, as he learns not only to come to terms with his blindness but to excel in spite of it and win a place at the prestigious Azhar University in Cairo. The second part, The Stream of Days: A Student at the Azhar (1939), is an enthralling picture of student life in Egypt in the early 1900s, and the record of the growth of an unusually gifted personality. More than forty years later, Hussein published A Passage to France (1973), carrying the story on to his final attainment of a doctorate at the Sorbonne, a saga of perseverance in the face of daunting odds.
23. Zayni Barakat by Gamal al-Ghitani, Farouk Abdel Wahab (Translator), 1974
The Egypt of the Mamluk dynasty witnessed a period of artistic ostentation and social and political upheaval, at the heart of which lay the unsolved question of the ruler’s legitimacy. Now, in 1516, the Mamluk reign is coming to an end with the advance of the invading Ottomans. The numerous narrators, among them a Venetian traveler and several native Muslims, tell the story of the rise to power of the ruthless, enigmatic, and puritanical governor of Cairo, Zayni Barakat ibn Musa, whose control of the corrupt city is effected only through a complicated network of spies and informers.
24. Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz), 1975
Note: this is the first in a series of 20 novels about an Egyptologist.
Amelia Peabody inherited two things from her father: a considerable fortune and an unbendable will. The first allowed her to indulge in her life’s passion. Without the second, the mummy’s curse would have made corpses of them all. On her travels, Amelia Peabody rescues a woman in distress and the two become friends. They continue to Egypt where they face mysteries, mummies and outspoken archaeologist, Radcliffe Emerson who doesn’t need women to help him solve mysteries.
25. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, Sherif Hetata (Translator), 1975
Nawal El Saadawi’s highly acclaimed feminist novel, Woman at Point Zero, follows the life of Firdaus, an Egyptian peasant girl, from her childhood of incomprehensible cruelty and neglect to her end in a grimy Cairo prison cell. From her earliest memories, Firdaus suffered at the hands of men – first her abusive father, then her violent, much older husband, to finally her deceitful boyfriend-turned-pimp. After a lifetime of abuse, she at last takes drastic action against the males ruling her life.
26. The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz, Catherine Cobham (Translator), 1977
The Harafish begins with the tale of Ashur al-Nagi, a man who grows from humble beginnings to become a great leader, a legend among his people. Generation after generation, however, Ashur’s descendants grow further from his legendary example. They lose touch with their origins as they amass and then squander large fortunes, marry prostitutes when they marry at all, and develop rivalries that end in death.
27. The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World by Nawal El Saadawi, Sherif Hetata (Translator), 1977 (NF)
This powerful account of brutality against women in the Muslim world remains as shocking today as when it was first published, more than a quarter of a century ago. It was the horrific female genital mutilation that she suffered aged only six, which first awakened Nawal el Saadawi’s sense of the violence and injustice which permeated her society. Her experiences working as a doctor in villages around Egypt, witnessing prostitution, honour killings and sexual abuse, inspired her to write in order to give voice to this suffering. She goes on explore the causes of the situation through a discussion of the historical role of Arab women in religion and literature. Saadawi argues that the veil, polygamy and legal inequality are incompatible with the just and peaceful Islam which she envisages.
28. War in the Land of Egypt by Yusuf Qa’id, Olive and Lorne Kenny, Christopher Tingley (Translators), 1978
Egypt on the eve of the 1973 October war. A young man has been drafted into the army. His father, the village elder, persuades a poor night-watchman to send his own son as a stand-in. But the impersonation plan goes horribly wrong, with tragicomic results. Qa’id’s tale of the fiasco – steeped in irony and black humour – parodies outrageous corruption and ludicrous bureaucracy. A skillfully crafted mosaic of life in modern Egypt.
29. The Curse of the Pharaohs (Amelia Peabody #2) by Elizabeth Peters, 1981
Victorian Amelia Peabody continues to journal her Egypt adventures, toddler Ramses left in England. Husband Radcliffe Emerson’s old friend Lady Baskerville fears a curse killed her husband Sir Henry, and soon engages the attentions of American Cyrus. The will funds continued excavation. But a lady dressed in white floats, flutters, spreads fear, and more death.
30. Memoirs from the Women’s Prison by Nawal El Saadawi, Marilyn Booth (Translator), 1982 (NF)
Often likened to Rigoberta Menchu and Nadine Gordimer, Nawal El Saadawi is one of the world’s leading feminist authors. Director of Health and Education in Cairo, she was summarily dismissed from her post in 1972 for her political writing and activities. In 1981 she was imprisoned by Anwar Sadat for alleged “crimes against the State” and was not released until after his assassination. Memoirs from the Women’s Prison offers both firsthand witness to women’s resistance to state violence and fascinating insights into the formation of women’s community. Saadawi describes how political prisoners, both secular intellectuals and Islamic revivalists, forged alliances to demand better conditions and to maintain their sanity in the confines of their cramped cell.
31. Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories by Alifa Rifaat, Denys Johnson-Davies (Translator), 1983
“More convincingly than any other woman writing in Arabic today, Alifa Rifaat lifts the veil on what it means to be a woman living within a traditional Muslim society.” So states the translator’s foreword to this collection of the Egyptian author’s best short stories. Rifaat did not go to university, spoke only Arabic, and seldom traveled abroad. This virtual immunity from Western influence lends a special authenticity to her direct yet sincere accounts of death, sexual fulfilment, the lives of women in purdah, and the frustrations of everyday life in a male-dominated Islamic environment.
32. The Heron by Ibrahim Aslan, Elliott Colla (Translator), 1983
Note: this modern classic was adapted into the film Kit Kat.
One long winter night and the Cairo neighbourhood of Kit Kat stands at a crossroads. Poised like herons fishing on the banks of the Nile, the characters of this novel wait and watch as opportunities swim by past their reach. Some gaze on as their local cafe is stolen before their eyes. One studies how the nouveaux riches of the Open Door Policy make their money, while others try their own hand at swindle. Still others read the empty rhetoric of state-run newspapers and wonder what it all means. It is long past midnight; some walk, some sit and smoke, and all are trading stories. A young artist waits by himself for a girl, a drink, or a revolution. All are waiting for what the next day might bring. Set on the eve of the January 1977 “bread riots” against IMF austerity programs and privatisation that nearly brought down President Anwar Sadat, The Heron catches Egypt in the mid-stream of its modern history.
33. Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer, 1983
Norman Mailer’s dazzlingly rich, deeply evocative novel of ancient Egypt breathes life into the figures of a lost era: the eighteenth-dynasty Pharaoh Rameses and his wife, Queen Nefertiti; Menenhetet, their creature, lover, and victim; and the gods and mortals that surround them in intimate and telepathic communion. Mailer’s reincarnated protagonist is carried through the exquisite gardens of the royal harem, along the majestic flow of the Nile, and into the terrifying clash of battle. An extraordinary work of inventiveness, Ancient Evenings lives on in the mind long after the last page has been turned.
34. A Woman of Cairo by Noel Barber, 1984
Son and daughter of diplomats in Cairo, the gentle Serena Pasha and Mark Holt are privileged and attractive, growing up in a magical world of champagne breakfasts and midnight picnics at the pyramids. Their lives entwined since childhood, they grow ever closer as adults. Yet Serena’s hand has been promised not to Mark, but to his brother, Greg. As World War II speeds closer to Cairo, a shocking accident gives these young lovers a second chance – but with this chance comes terrible danger. Egypt is threatened not only by the German army but by nationalist forces within Cairo determined to end the British occupation at any cost. The country torn apart, and enemies everywhere, Mark and Serena’s love is tested to the limit.
35. The Mummy Case (Amelia Peabody #3) by Elizabeth Peters, 1985
Radcliffe Emerson, the irascible husband of fellow archaeologist and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, has earned the nickname “Father of Curses” – and at Mazghunah he demonstrates why. Denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshoor, he and Amelia are resigned to excavating mounds of rubble in the middle of nowhere. And there is nothing in this barren area worthy of their interest – until an antiquities dealer is murdered in his own shop. A second sighting of a sinister stranger from the crime scene, a mysterious scrap of papyrus, and a missing mummy case have all whetted Amelia’s curiosity. But when the Emersons start digging for answers in an ancient tomb, events take a darker and deadlier turn – and there may be no surviving the very modern terrors their efforts reveal.
36. Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody #4) by Elizabeth Peters, 1986
The 1895-96 season promises to be an exceptional one for Amelia Peabody, her dashing Egyptologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, and their precocious (some might say rambunctious) eight-year-old son, Ramses. The long-denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshoor has finally been granted, and the much-coveted burial chamber of the Black Pyramid is now theirs for the exploring. Before the young family exchanges the relative comfort of Cairo for the more rudimentary quarters near the excavation site, they engage a young Englishman, Donald Fraser, as a tutor and companion for Ramses, and Amelia takes a wayward young woman, Enid Debenham, under her protective wing.
37. Morning and Evening Talk by Naguib Mahfouz, Christina Phllips (Translator), 1987
A late work by the Egyptian Nobel literature laureate, Morning and Evening Talk is an epic tale of Egyptian life over five generations. Set in Cairo, it traces the fortunes of three families from the arrival of Napoleon at the end of the eighteenth century to the 1980s, using short character sketches arranged in alphabetical order. This highly experimental device produces a kind of biographical dictionary, whose individual entries come together to paint a vivid portrait of life in Cairo from a range of different perspectives.
38. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Alan R. Clarke (Translator), 1988
Note: this title travels many places, with part of it set in Egypt.
Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and soul-stirring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried near the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest.
39. The Time-Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets by Khairy Shalaby, Michael Cooperson (Translator), 1991
Ibn Shalaby, like many Egyptians, is looking for a job. Yet, unlike most of his fellow citizens, he is prone to sudden dislocations in time. Armed with his trusty briefcase and his Islamic-calendar wristwatch, he bounces uncontrollably through Egypt’s rich and varied past, with occasional return visits to the 1990s. Through his wild and whimsical adventures, he meets, befriends, and falls out with sultans, poets, and an assortment of celebrities-from Naguib Mahfouz to the founder of the city of Cairo. Khairy Shalaby’s nimble storytelling brings this witty odyssey to life.
40. River God (Ancient Egypt #1) by Wilbur Smith, 1993
For Tanus, the fair-haired young lion of a warrior, the gods have decreed that he will lead Egypt’s army in a bold attempt to reunite the Kingdom’s shared halves. But Tanus will have to defy the same gods to attain the reward they have forbidden him, an object more prized than battle’s glory: possession of the Lady Lostris, a rare beauty with skin the colour of oiled ceder – destined for the adoration of a nation, and the love of one extraordinary man.
41. In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif, 1993
Set amidst the turmoil of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, this vivid and highly-acclaimed novel by an Egyptian journalist is an intimate look into the lives of Arab women today. Here, a woman who grows up among the Egyptian elite, marries a Westernised husband, and, while pursuing graduate study, becomes embroiled in a love affair with an uncouth Englishman.
42. Ramses: The Son of Light (Ramsès #1) by Christian Jacq, Mary Feeney (Translator), 1995
Historical fiction meets mythology as ancient Egypt comes alive in this monumental epic. At fourteen, Ramses, the second son of the Pharaoh Seth, must begin to pass a series of royal tests designed to build his mental and physical prowess – or break him. Is Seth planning to leave the world’s most powerful empire to Ramses, and not his corrupt brother, Shaanar? Before he knows it, the younger prince is surrounded by enemies and turning to his friends: Moses, the brilliant young Hebrew; Setau, the snake charmer and mage; Ahmeni; the frail scholar; and Set and Nefertari, the two beautiful women Ramses loves.
43. The Tent by Miral al-Tahawy, Anthony Calderbank (Translator), 1995
The Tent is a beautifully written, powerful, and disturbing novel, featuring a host of women characters whose lives are subject to the will of a single, often absent, patriarch and his brutal, foul-mouthed mother. Told through the eyes of a young girl, the lives of the Bedouin and peasant women unfold, revealing the tragedy of the sonless mother and the intolerable heaviness of existence. Set against trackless deserts and star-filled night skies, the story tells of the young girl’s relationship with her distant father and a foreign woman who is well-meaning but ultimately motivated by self-interest. It provides an intimate glimpse inside the women’s quarters, and chronicles their pastimes and preoccupations, their stories and their songs.
44. I Think of You: Stories by Ahdaf Soueif, 1996
Note: this collection of short stories is primarily set between Egypt and the United Kingdom.
Ahdaf Soueif, the bestselling author of The Map of Love, writes poignantly and beautifully about love, and about finding one’s place in the world. Achingly lyrical, resonant and richly woven, and with a spark of defiance, these stories explore areas of tension – where women and men are ensnared by cultural and social mores and prescribed notions of “love,” where the place you are, is not the place you want to be. Soueif draws her characters with infinite tenderness and compassion as they inhabit a world of lost opportunities, unfulfilled love, and remembrance of times past.
45. No One Sleeps in Alexandria (Alexandria Trilogy #1) by Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, Farouk Abdel Wahab (Translator), 1996
This sweeping novel depicts the intertwined lives of an assortment of Egyptians – Muslims and Copts, northerners and southerners, men and women – as they begin to settle in Egypt’s great second city, and explores how the Second World War, starting in supposedly faraway Europe, comes crashing down on them, affecting their lives in fateful ways. Central to the novel is the story of a striking friendship between Sheikh Magd al-Din, a devout Muslim with peasant roots in northern Egypt, and Dimyan, a Copt with roots in southern Egypt, in their journey of survival and self-discovery. Woven around this narrative are the stories of other characters, in the city, in the villages, or in the faraway desert; closer to the fields of combat.
46. I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti, Ahdaf Soueif (Translator) 1997 (NF)
Note: this title is only partly set in Egypt.
Winner of the prestigious Naguib Mahfouz Medal, this fierce and moving work is an unparalleled rendering of the human aspects of the Palestinian predicament. Barred from his homeland after 1967’s Six-Day War, the poet Mourid Barghouti spent thirty years in exile – shuttling among the world’s cities, yet secure in none of them; separated from his family for years at a time; never certain whether he was a visitor, a refugee, a citizen, or a guest. As he returns home for the first time since the Israeli occupation, Barghouti crosses a wooden bridge over the Jordan River into Ramallah and is unable to recognise the city of his youth.
47. The Other Place by Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, 1997
Note: this title is centred around an Egyptian character.
The Other Place portrays the shallowness of the petrodollar culture and the price one pays for quick money. The protagonist of this prize-winning novel, an educated middle-class Egyptian from Alexandria, describes his experiences and those of migrant workers and professionals in one of the Gulf states, and their interaction with the oil-rich country’s local elite and with agents of Western businesses. The book pictures rather than states the desolation brought about when market values take over and the ravages that such an order causes to all who partake in it.
48. The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George, 1998
Note: this title is set between Egypt and Rome.
Bestselling novelist Margaret George brings to life the glittering kingdom of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, in this lush, sweeping, and richly detailed saga. Told in Cleopatra’s own voice, this is a mesmerising tale of ambition, passion, and betrayal, which begins when the twenty-year-old queen seeks out the most powerful man in the world, Julius Caesar, and does not end until, having survived the assassination of Caesar and the defeat of the second man she loves, Marc Antony, she plots her own death rather than be paraded in triumph through the streets of Rome.
49. The Hippopotamus Marsh (Lords of the Two Lands #1) by Pauline Gedge, 1998
Seqenenra Tao, Prince of Weset, leads a revolt against the alien Hyksos pharaohs. His provincial aristocratic family is accustomed to a life of straitened gentility. But when the prince decides to rebel they must risk all, even life itself, to restore Egyptians and their gods to glory.
50. The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif, 1999
At either end of the twentieth century, two women fall in love with men outside their familiar worlds. In 1901, Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, leaves England for Egypt, an outpost of the Empire roiling with nationalist sentiment. Far from the comfort of the British colony, she finds herself enraptured by the real Egypt and in love with Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi. Nearly a hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist and descendant of Anna and Sharif has fallen in love with Omar al-Ghamrawi, a gifted and difficult Egyptian-American conductor with his own passionate politics. In an attempt to understand her conflicting emotions and to discover the truth behind her heritage, Isabel, too, travels to Egypt, and enlists Omar’s sister’s help in unravelling the story of Anna and Sharif’s love.
51. Specters by Radwa Ashour, Barbara Romaine (Translator), 1999
Specters tells the story of Radwa and Shagar, two women born the same day. The narrative alternates between their childhoods, their work lives (one a professor of literature and the other of history), their personal relationships, and their respective books. With her novel’s structure, Ashour pays tribute to the Arab qareen (double or companion, and sometimes demon) and the ancient Egyptian ka, the spirit that is born with and accompanies an individual through life, and beyond.
52. A Border Passage: From Cairo to America – A Woman’s Journey by Leila Ahmed, 1999 (NF)
An Egyptian woman’s reflections on her changing homeland. In language that vividly evokes the lush summers of Cairo and the stark beauty of the Arabian desert, Leila Ahmed movingly recounts her Egyptian childhood growing up in a rich tradition of Islamic women and describes how she eventually came to terms with her identity as a feminist living in America. As a young woman in Cairo in the forties and fifties, Ahmed witnessed some of the major transformations of this century – the end of British colonialism, the rise of Arab nationalism, and the breakdown of Egypt’s once multi-religious society. As today’s Egypt continues to undergo revolutionary change, Ahmed’s inspirational story remains as poignant and relevant as ever.
53. The Lodging House by Khairy Shalaby, Farouk Abdel Wahab (Translator), 1999
A young man’s dreams for a better future as a student in the Teachers’ Institute are shattered after he assaults one of his instructors for discriminating against him. From then on, he begins his descent into the underworld. Penniless, he seeks refuge in Wikalat ‘Atiya, a historic but now completely run-down caravanserai that has become the home of the town’s marginal and underprivileged characters.
54. The Law of Inheritance by Yasser Abdellatif, Robin Moger (Translator), 2002
This lyrical novel tells the story of a young man living in Egypt in the 1990s, a time of great turmoil. We see student riots at Cairo University, radical politics, and the first steps towards the making of a writer. But his story is not told in isolation: through his experiences and memories Yasser Abdellatif also unfolds the experiences of his Nubian family through the epochal changes the country underwent in the twentieth-century.
55. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany, Humphrey T. Davies (Translator), 2002
This controversial bestselling novel in the Arab world reveals the political corruption, sexual repression, religious extremism, and modern hopes of Egypt today. All manner of flawed and fragile humanity reside in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor now slowly decaying in the smog and bustle of downtown Cairo: a fading aristocrat and self-proclaimed “scientist of women”; a sultry, voluptuous siren; a devout young student, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism; a newspaper editor helplessly in love with a policeman; a corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify his desires.
56. Moon Over Samarqand by Mohamed Mansi Qandil, Jennifer Peterson (Translator), 2004
Note: this title is centred around an Egyptian character.
A journey through Central Asia and beyond, Moon Over Samarqand is the story of one Egyptian’s quest for the truth. Seeking explanations to his troubled past through a long-lost friend in Samarqand, Ali’s travel brings him into encounters with the Uzbekistan of today, yesterday, and once upon a time. His tale embraces many tales those of his confounding taxi driver, of Islamic activists, and of the criminal underworld, as well as stories of struggles against authoritarianism in Egypt. Woven among these are legendary tales of gypsies, khans, and madmen, of magic, treasure, and love.
57. Out of Egypt (Christ the Lord #1) by Anne Rice, 2005
With the Holy Land in turmoil, seven-year-old Jesus and his family leave Egypt for the dangerous road home to Jerusalem. As they travel, the boy tries to unlock the secret of his birth and comprehend his terrifying power to work miracles. Anne Rice’s dazzling, kaleidoscopic novel, based on the gospels and the most respected New Testament scholarship, summons up the voice, the presence, and the words of Jesus, allowing him to tell his own story as he struggles to grasp the holy purpose of his life.
58. Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi, 2006 (NF)
Underscoring the most diverse species on the planet – the taxi driver – this striking portrait unveils the polluted, unforgiving streets of Cairo, a city that simply refuses to stand still. Bringing together 58 fictional monologues from Cairo cabbies, recreated from actual experiences while traversing the city, this novel takes readers on a roller coaster of emotions as bumpy and noisy as the city’s potholed and chaotic streets. Described as an urban sociology, an ethnography, a classic of oral history, and even a work of poetry in motion, these narratives tell tales of the struggle for survival and dignity among greater Cairo’s 80,000 cab drivers.
59. Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher, Humphrey Davies (Translator), 2006
Winner of the first Arabic Booker Prize, a vivid compelling historical tale set in late nineteenth-century Egypt. When Mahmoud, a disgraced Egyptian officer, is posted to the remote desert town of Siwa, his Irish wife insists on accompanying him, to pursue the secrets of Alexander the Great. Neither is prepared for the stultifying heat, the hostility of the townspeople, or the astonishing and disturbing events that befall them in the dreamlike other-worldliness of the Sunset Oasis.
60. Cairo Swan Song by Mekkawi Said, Adam Talib (Translator), 2006
Cairo, Mother of the World, embraces millions – but some of her children make their home in the streets, junked up and living in the shadows of wealth and among the monuments that the tourists flock to see. Mustafa, a former student radical who never believed in the slogans, sets out to tell their story, but he has to rely on the help of his American girlfriend, Marcia, who he is not sure he can trust. Meanwhile, his former leftist friends are now all either capitalists or Islamists. Alienated from a corrupt and corrupting society, Mustafa watches as the Cairo he cherishes crumbles around him. The men and women of the city struggle to find lovers worthy of their love and causes worthy of their sacrifice in a country that no longer deserves their loyalty. The children of the streets wait for the adults to take notice. And the foreigners can always leave.
61. Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany, 2007
Note: this novel is set in Chicago, but centres around Egyptian characters.
Egyptian and American lives collide on a college campus in post-9/11 Chicago, and crises of identity abound in this extraordinary novel from Alaa al Aswany. Among the players are a sixties-style anti-establishment professor whose relationship with a younger African American woman becomes a moving target for intolerance; a veiled PhD candidate whose conviction in the principles of her traditional upbringing is shaken by her exposure to American society; an émigré whose fervent desire to embrace his American identity is tested when he is faced with the issue of his daughter’s “honour”; an Egyptian informant who spouts religious doctrines while hankering after money and power; and a dissident student poet who comes to America to finance his literary aspirations, but whose experience in Chicago turns out to be more than he bargained for.
62. Nefertiti (Egyptian Royals #1) by Michelle Moran, 2007
Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped by all that her strong personality will temper the young Amunhotep’s heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods, overthrow the priests of Amun, and introduce a new sun god for all to worship. From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people. Her charisma is matched only by her husband’s perceived generosity: Amunhotep showers his subjects with lofty promises.
63. Vertigo by Ahmed Mourad, 2007
Ahmed, a society photographer in a celebrated Cairo nightclub, witnesses a friend horrifically killed in a fight between young business rivals. Forced to escape the scene of the crime and go into hiding, Ahmed is ensnared in a web of cover-ups and crimes whose perpetrators stop at nothing to hide. In this sprawling political thriller, Ahmed is forced to confront ruthless players. It’s a game where the penalty for failure could be his life. This is a tense thriller that exposes contemporary Egypt and Cairo’s seedy nightlife.
64. Blue Lorries by Radwa Ashour, Barbara Romaine (Translator), 2008
Nada is no stranger to protest. She is five years old when her French mother takes her to visit her Egyptian father, a political activist with a passing resemblance to President Nasser, in prison. When he returns home five years later, a changed man, their little family begins to fracture and eventually Nada’s mother moves back to Paris. Through her teenage years Nada is surrounded by the language of protest – ‘anarchism’, ‘Trotskyism’, ‘communism’ – and, one summer in Paris, she discovers the ’68 movement and her first love. And how to slam doors in anger.
65. The Heretic Queen (Egyptian Royals #2) by Michelle Moran, 2008
In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history. The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family – all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.
66. Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan, Jonathan Wright (Translator), 2008
In this haunting and controversial English-language debut, Youssef Ziedan confronts issues as vital today as they were one and a half millennia ago. Set in the 5th century AD, Azazeel is the exquisitely crafted tale of a Coptic monk’s journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of massive upheaval in the early Church. The monk, Hypa, embarks on a journey both physical and spiritual, encountering, the devil, Azazeel, and the hardship of severe temptation. At times able to resist, while at others bending to the strengths of his desire, Hypa learns that physical pleasure and spiritual enlightenment can be two sides of the same coin.
67. A 1/4 Gram by Essam Youssef, Loubna A. Youssef (Translator), 2008
Essam Youssef was born in Cairo in 1965 and is a graduate of the Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University. Coming from a family of acclaimed literary figures, Essam has spent most of this decade compiling the realistic novel “1/4 Gram”; a brutally honest insider’s account on Egypt’s drug world. Relying on events from real life, Salah the narrator in the novel tells the story of a group of friends who try a 1/4 gram for the first time during a party on New Year’s Eve.
68. Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik, Chip Rosetti (Translator), 2008
A grim futuristic account of Egyptian society in the year 2023, Utopia takes readers on a chilling journey beyond the gated communities of the North Coast where the wealthy are insulated from the bleakness of life outside the walls. When a young man and a girl break out from this bubble of affluence in order to see for themselves the lives of their impoverished fellow Egyptians they are confronted by a world that they had not imagined possible.
69. The Collar and the Bracelet by Yahya Taher Abdullah, Samah Selim (Translator), 2008
Set in the ancient Upper Egyptian village of Karnak against the backdrop of the British campaigns in Sudan, the Second World War, and the war in Palestine, The Collar and the Bracelet is the stunning saga of the Bishari family – a family ripped apart by the violence of history, the dark conduits of human desire, and the rigid social conventions of village life. In a series of masterful narrative circles and repetitions, the novella traces the grim intrigues of Hazina al-Bishari and the inexorable destinies of her son, the exile and notorious bandit Mustafa, her daughter Fahima, tortured by guilt and secret passion, and the tragic doom of her beautiful granddaughter Nabawiya.
70. The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson, 2009
Thrust onto Egypt’s most powerful throne at the age of nine, King Tut’s reign was fiercely debated from the outset. Behind the palace’s veil of prosperity, bitter rivalries and jealousy flourished among the Boy King’s most trusted advisors, and after only nine years, King Tut suddenly perished, his name purged from Egyptian history. To this day, his death remains shrouded in controversy.
71. Cleopatra’s Daughter (Egyptian Royals #3) by Michelle Moran, 2009
Note: this title is set between Alexandria and Rome.
At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other. Selene’s legendary parents are gone. Her country taken, she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had. Living under the watchful eyes of the ruling family, Selene and her brother must quickly learn how to be Roman – and how to be useful to Caesar. She puts her artistry to work, in the hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. Before long, however, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire.
72. Being Abbas el Abd by Ahmed Alaidy, Humphrey Davies (Translator), 2009
“What is madness?” asks the narrator of Ahmed Alaidy’s jittery, funny, and angry novel. Assuring readers that they are about to find out, the narrator takes us on a journey through the insanity of present-day Cairo in and out of minibuses, malls, and crash pads, navigating the city’s pinball machine of social life with tolerable efficiency. But lurking under the rocks in his grouchy, chain-smoking, pharmaceutically-oriented, twenty-something life are characters like his elusive psychiatrist uncle with a disturbing interest in phobias. And then there’s Abbas, the narrator’s best friend who surfaces at critical moments to drive our hero into uncontrollably multiplying difficulties.
73. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, 2010 (NF)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator. Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties.
74. House of the Wolf by Ezzat El Kamhawi, Nancy Roberts (Translator), 2010
Winner of the 2012 Naguib Mahfouz Medal, this novel is set in an idyllic Egyptian village from the time it was discovered by Muhammad Ali’s mission in the early nineteenth century to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, movingly intertwining events on the world scene with the life dramas of its protagonists. The story opens with the pivotal character, Mubarka Badr, now a grandmother and matriarch, wanting to dictate a letter to God for her grandson to send to the Almighty by email. We are then ushered back in time to Mubarka’s fiery adolescence and her painfully aborted romance with Muntasir, son of the village’s deceased but legendary strongman.
75. Brooklyn Heights by Miral al-Tahawy, Samah Selim (Translator), 2010
Note: this novel is set in the United States, but centres around Egyptian characters.
Hind, newly arrived in New York with her eight-year-old son, several suitcases of unfinished manuscripts, and hardly any English, finds a room in a Brooklyn teeming with people like her who dream of becoming writers. As she discovers the various corners of her new home, they conjure up parallel memories from her childhood and her small Bedouin village in the Nile Delta: Emilia who sells used shoes at the flea market smells like Zeinab, the old woman who worked for Hind’s grandfather; the reflection of her own body as she dances tango awakens the awkwardness of her relationship to that body across the years; the story of Lilette, the Egyptian bourgeoise who has lost her memory, prompts Hind to safeguard her own.
76. Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine C. Fishere, John Peate (Translator), 2011
Note: this novel is set in the United States, but centres around Egyptian characters.
On the eve of Salma’s twenty-first birthday, friends and family travel to New York for a celebration reluctantly organised by her grandfather Darwish. As the guests make their way to the party, each journey takes on a greater significance than a simple trip to the city, as they find themselves examining their pasts, their relationships to one another, and to the country in which they live. Between Cairo and New York, Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge paints a vivid portrait of a fragmented Arab-American family, one struggling to become whole again and to let go of the past.
77. Timeless (Parasol Protectorate #5) by Gail Carriger, 2012
Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire’s second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell’s acting troupe’s latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a dampener on Alexia’s enjoyment of her new London lifestyle. Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle.
78. The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, Elisabeth Jaquette (Translator), 2012
Set against the backdrop of a failed political uprising, The Queue is a chilling debut that evokes Orwellian dystopia, Kafkaesque surrealism, and a very real vision of life after the Arab Spring. In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralised authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.
79. The Televangelist by Ibrahim Essa, Jonathan Wright (Translator), 2012
Meet Egypt’s top TV preacher Hatem el-Shenawi: a national celebrity revered by housewives and politicians alike for delivering Islam to the masses. Charismatic and quick-witted, he has friends in high places. But when he is entrusted with a secret that threatens to wreak havoc across the country, he is drawn into a web of political intrigue at the very heart of government. Can Hatem’s fame and fortune save him from this unspeakable scandal?
80. The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany, 2013
Once a respected landowner, Abd el-Aziz Gaafar fell into penury and moved his family to Cairo, where he was forced into menial work at the Automobile Club – a refuge of colonial luxury for its European members. There, Alku, the lifelong Nubian retainer of Egypt’s corrupt and dissolute king, lords it over the staff, a squabbling but tight-knit group, who live in perpetual fear, as they are thrashed for their mistakes, their wages dependent on Alku’s whims. When, one day, Abd el-Aziz stands up for himself, he is beaten. Soon afterward, he dies, as much from shame as from his injuries, leaving his widow and four children further impoverished. The family’s loss propels them down different paths.
81. Clouds Over Alexandria by Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, Kay Heikkinen (Translator), 2013
In the 1970s, once-cosmopolitan Alexandria was at the forefront of the clash between Nasser’s socialist-era principles and the burgeoning fundamentalist movement. Five idealistic students find themselves caught up in this tangled web, as their leftist activism makes them a target both from government surveillance and the Islamist groups seeking to curtail the city’s social life. The group of friends’ participation in the explosive ‘bread riots’ is swiftly followed by the crushing experience of prison, and the course of their young lives changes irrevocably.
82. Hunger: An Egyptian Novel by Mohamed El-Bisatie, Denys Johnson-Davies (Translation), 2014
As with his earlier works, Mohamed El-Bisatie’s novel is set in the Egyptian countryside, about which he writes with such understanding. Episodic in form, it deals with a family Zaghloul the layabout father, Sakeena the long-suffering wife, and two young boys. The central theme of the book is hunger: the hunger of not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from, and the universal hunger for sex and love. Sakeena’s life revolves round trying to provide her family with the necessary daily loaves of bread that will stave off starvation. Labor-shy Zaghloul works on and off at one of the village’s cafes, but prefers to spend his time listening in on conversations about subjects such as politics, which he would have liked to know more about, if only he had been an educated man.
83. In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib, 2015
Note: this novel is set in the United States, but centres around Egyptian characters.
Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy appear to have attained the American dream. After immigrating to the United States from Egypt, Samir successfully works his way through a residency and launches his own medical practice as Nagla tends to their firstborn, Hosaam, in the cramped quarters of a small apartment. Soon the growing family moves into a big house in the manicured New Jersey suburb of Summerset, where their three children eventually attend school with Natalie Bradstreet, the daughter of their neighbors and best friends. More than a decade later, the family’s seemingly stable life is suddenly upended when a devastating turn of events leaves Hosaam and Natalie dead and turns the Al-Menshawys into outcasts in their own town.
84. A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark, 2016
Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and plot that could unravel time itself.
85. The Convert by Stefan Hertmans, David McKay (Translator), 2016
Note: this title travels many places, with part of it set in Egypt.
The Middle Ages have just begun when Vigdis Adelas, a young woman from a prosperous French family, falls in love with David Todros, a student at the city’s yeshiva, and the son of a rabbi. To be together, they must flee their city, Vigdis renouncing a life of privilege and comfort. Pursued by her father’s knights and in constant danger of betrayal, the lovers embark on a dangerous journey to the south of France, only to find their brief happiness destroyed by the vicious wave of anti-Semitism that sweeps Europe with the onset of the First Crusade. Stefan Hertmans meticulously retraces Vigdis’s epic journey, first across France and then beyond, to Palermo and the Middle East. Blending fact and fiction, and with immense imagination and stylistic ingenuity, he painstakingly imagines her terrible trials, bringing the Middle Ages to life, and illuminating a chaotic world of passion, hate, love, and death.
86. In the Spider’s Room by Muhammed Abdelnabi, Jonathan Wright (Translator), 2016
Hani was out for an evening stroll near Cairo’s Tahrir Square when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. An informant had identified him, and he was thrown into the back of a police truck. There began a seven-month nightmare as he was swept up, along with fifty other men, in the infamous Queen Boat affair that targeted Egypt’s gay community. Finally free, but traumatised into speechlessness, Hani writes down the events of his life – his first sexual desires, his relationship with his mother, his marriage of convenience, and his passion for Abdel Aziz, the only man he ever truly loved.
87. Mortal Designs by Reem Bassiouney, Melanie Magidow (Translator), 2016
Captain Murad is busy planning for the Afterlife. He dreams of a grand, sunlit mausoleum on the banks of the Nile. To realize his pharaonic folly, the retired captain kindles an unlikely romance between Hazem, a feckless architect longing for immortality, and Asma, an impoverished single mother who strives for a better life for her children. As Murad’s tomb rises on the riverbank, so Hazem and Asma fall in love. A contemporary Egyptian romance of rare grace and wit, played out by characters trapped in their attitudes toward class and gender.
88. A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore by Mohamed al-Mansi Qandil, 2016
It’s the dawn of the twentieth century, and Britain’s glittering Empire extends far and wide, full of the dangerously seductive promise of untapped riches. Englishman Howard Carter’s artistic talent takes him on an expedition attempting to locate Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt. There, amidst growing unrest between the tyrannical British rulers and the so-called “barbarians,” he meets Aisha. At first glance, modest, stammering Howard has nothing whatsoever in common with Aisha, the young Egyptian whose profile bears more than a passing resemblance to Nefertiti’s beautiful face as depicted on the Pharaonic relics Howard loves so much. A bewildering mix of contradictions, Aisha is a village girl, yet she speaks four languages; Muslim, yet she has a tattoo of the cross on her arm; a stranger, yet with an achingly familiar face.
89. Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte, 2017
From a hugely talented, award-winning young author, a brilliant, lively debut novel about an impulsive American attorney, a methodical Egyptian translator, and a disillusioned Iraqi-American resettlement officer trying to protect a refugee who finds herself trapped in Cairo during the turbulent aftermath of the January 25 revolution. Cairo, 2011. President Mubarak has just been ousted from power. The oldest city in the world is reeling from political revolution, its consequent hopes and fears, its’ violence, triumphs, and defeats. But for the people actually living there, daily life has not slowed down but become wilder, more dangerous, and, occasionally, freeing.
90. The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas, 2018
In this spellbinding novel, a young man journeys from California to Cairo to unravel centuries-old family secrets. Joseph, a literature student at Berkeley, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. One day, a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, pulling him into a mesmerising adventure to uncover the tangled history that binds the two sides of his family. For generations, the men of the al-Raqb family have served as watchmen of the storied Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary – perhaps magical – Ezra Scroll.
91. Tales of Yusuf Tadros: A Novel by Adel Esmat, Mandy McClure (Translator), 2018
Tales of Yusuf Tadros is set in the Egyptian Delta town of Tanta, and tells the story of a young Coptic artist from a humble background. It provides an intimate glimpse into Egyptian Christian life, and carefully tells of the struggles faced by an artist who seeks to remain true to his calling. Written with sensitivity and honesty, it addresses an array of social issues in Egypt’s rapidly changing landscape, from fundamentalism to emigration.
92. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark, 2019
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.
93. The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult, 2020
Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She’s on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband, but a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong. Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, her beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, where she helps ease the transition between life and death for patients in hospice. But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a job she once studied for, but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.
94. Murder at the Mena House (A Jane Wunderly Mystery #1) by Erica Ruth Neubauer, 2020
Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel – an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers wait in the shadows. Egypt, 1926. Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won’t be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie’s best efforts at meddling with her love life, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane’s plans to remain cool and indifferent become ancient history in the company of Mr. Redvers, a roguish banker she can’t quite figure out.
95. The Girl With Braided Hair by Rasha Adly, 2020
The lives of two women living centuries apart are connected by an enigmatic painting in this mesmerising debut based on historical events. Art historian, Yasmine, is restoring an unsigned portrait of a strikingly beautiful girl from the Napoleonic Era, when she discovers that the artist has embedded a lock of hair into the painting, something highly unusual. The mysterious painting came into the museum’s possession without record, and Yasmine becomes consumed by the secret concealed within this captivating work. Meanwhile, at the close of the French Campaign in Egypt, sixteen-year-old Zeinab, the daughter of a prominent sheikh, is drawn into French high society when Napoleon himself requests her presence. Enamored by the foreign customs of the Europeans, she finds herself on a dangerous path, one that may ostracise her from her family and culture.
What do you think of these books set in Egypt?
Have you been to Egypt? Do you call Egypt home? Have you read any of these books set in Egypt? Do you know some great books that should be added? Or some classics that haven’t been translated as yet? What is your favourite book set in Egypt? I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on books set in Egypt in the comments below!
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