Books @ Egypt

I am only going to recommend books that I have actually read.

The White Nile. Alan Moorehead.

The White Nile is a terrific book, set against the grand sweep of history. It describes various European explorers' attempts to find the source of the Nile. Once you read it, you will wonder why you did not discover the Nile earlier.

The Blue Nile. Alan Moorehead. 

The Blue Nile is the sister book to the White Nile. It covers the  history of the Ethiopian branch of the Nile, that is much in the news today. Apparently, the Ethiopian branch provides most of the water that flows into Egypt.

A History of the Arab Speaking Peoples, Albert Hourani. 

This book is a must read. It covers the history of Arab peoples from tribal days to the present. It gives a lucid and comprehensive analysis of Islam in the early days and religious trends. It covers culture, politics, language, poetry, architecture. I am about halfway through its hundreds of pages and cannot put it down.

Siwa: The Oasis, Alan Blottiere

This book is a slightly tedious lament of the passing of the bucolic old Siwa. The author misses the old mud brick houses. It has some nice historical description, and does a good job of reviewing the history and ambience of the oasis.

The Lamp of Umm Hashim, Yahya Hakki

I enjoyed this collection of short stories about Egypt in the twenties and thirties. Hakki was a contemporary of Mahfouz and a master of the form. His best work discusses the painful transition of those educated abroad who return to Egypt, and the shock that awaits them as they try to bridge two very different cultures. His characters often hail from Upper Egypt, and he displays sensitivity, empathy, and a real sense of belonging to the lot of the poorest in society without romanticizing their circumstances.

City of Love and Ashes, Yusuf Idris.  

Wow, this is the kind of novel that makes you happy Johnnes Gutenberg invented the printing press! It is a very touching love story between a revolutionary, Hamza, and a woman Faziwa he meets during his revolutionary endeavors. The love story is made even more compelling by my personal understanding of how hard it is to fall in love in the very socially conservative Egyptian context. It provides a wonderful backdrop of Cairo during the period of the 1952 coup by Nasser. This book is so timely and relevant for the year 2011 in Egypt, it is unbelievable. Simply one of the best books I have ever read in my life.

For Better, For Worse: The Marriage Crisis that Made Modern Egypt,  Hanan Kholoussy

I really enjoyed this book. The author did a careful read of court cases and newspapers from the turn of the century. The focus of the book was why men were not marrying in the early 1900s in Egypt, and what could be done about it. The author shows how the press used the issue of marriage to discuss the duties of men as citizens in the emerging Egyptian nation. Marriage was often a topic of nationalist, even anti-colonial discourse. She also shows how marriage reflected changing social mores about domestic responsibilities and female behavior.

Dongola: A Novel of Nubia, Idris Ali 

I have now been to Upper Egypt twice, and I love it. One of the most amazing things I have done in Egypt was to visit a Nubian Village. The villages are gorgeous, and totally different from anything else I have ever seen. Many people who study Egypt do not know much about the Nubians. The Nubians actually ran one of the most successful Pharaonic periods that Egypt experienced. Unfortunately, this proud people suffered enormously from the building of Lake Nasser. This novel details their psychological loss. The book is set in the era of Mubarak.

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