Book Review: Short stories that capture the essence of bustling Cairo

The book was edited by Raph Cormack. (Supplied)
Updated 29 June 2019
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Book Review: Short stories that capture the essence of bustling Cairo

  • The book is a compilation of 10 short stories centered on Egypt’s capital
  • Nearly every story was written between 2013 and 2018

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.”


What We Are Reading Today: We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer

Updated 58 min 43 sec ago

What We Are Reading Today: We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer

  • Jonathan Safran Foer “provides many opportunities to see how we are facing disaster

We Are the Weather is an excellent book based upon scientific information, mostly ignored or not believed by the public.

The book “tackles the climate change issue with an interesting premise: Most of the things that you are doing to live a greener lifestyle will make no difference to the Earth,” said a review in goodreads.com.

Jonathan Safran Foer “provides many opportunities to see how we are facing disaster and collectively shrug our shoulders either because we don’t want to change or we don’t see how making a change as an individual makes a difference,” said the review.

The review said: “We have, Foer reveals, turned our planet into a farm for growing animal products, and the consequences are catastrophic.

“Only collective action will save our home and way of life. And it all starts with what we eat — and don’t eat — for breakfast.”

Foer is the author of two bestselling, award-winning novels: Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and a bestselling work of nonfiction, Eating Animals.