CHICAGO: “This book tells the story of a city that is struggling to forget itself,” writes Raph Cormack, editor of “The Book of Cairo,” a compilation of 10 short stories centered on Egypt’s capital. Highlighting one of the world’s most resilient cities, these stories capture Cairenes as they endure political and social change as new developments continuously transform the city they call home.
Nearly every story was written between 2013 and 2018, and captures “the strange mood of post-Arab Spring Cairo,” writes Cormack in his introduction. He finds that the city always feels as if “on the verge of disintegration but, through it all, has managed to hold at the center.” He recalls the ancient Fatimids, Mamluks and Nasserists whose history still remains under the sand that seems to be disappearing as the city expands. Cairo has an ever-changing landscape, from the traffic, to street names, to neighborhoods and governments.
Beginning with “Gridlock,” a story that intertwines the lives of just a few in a city of 20 million, the book gets to the heart of Cairo’s crowded streets. From the microbus driver to the street sweeper, life in a metropolitan city has a way of descending into chaos. As does the story “Talk” by Mohammed Kheir, whose life is forever changed by a man whose job it is to spread rumors in a city that brings them to life.
From irrational characters like in “Whine” by Hatem Hafez, to characters whose loneliness consumes them like in “Into the Emptiness” by Hassan Abdel Mawgoud, the experience of living in a large metropolis and watching it change right before one’s eyes can make one feel as if they are disappearing into a nothingness they no longer recognize. Between Hend Ja’far’s story, that sees her character speak his unpopular truth, and Nael Eltoukhy’s police officer who has been on a lifelong pursuit of the truth, the stories show stark differences in how Cairenes approach life.
As Cormack says, there is no place like Cairo in the world, “it is a city of great marvels, depth and vitality, which continues to produce astonishing literary talent.”