CHICAGO: Rasha Adly’s first novel to be translated into English, “The Girl with Braided Hair,” is an extraordinary journey, where lives intersect in an ancient city, hundreds of years apart.
Cairo feels as old as time in Adly’s novel, translated by Sarah Enany, where her main character, Yasmine, an art-historian and professor, finds herself restoring a painting of an Egypt long-forgotten: A painting of a beautiful young Egyptian girl, Zeinab. The young girl wears traditional clothes but has a lace scarf on her shoulder, not something Egyptian women wore at the time. So how did this girl come to have a European scarf, and who was she? The mystery transports Yasmine to two-hundred years earlier, during the French Campaign of Egypt where life and futures are undetermined unless one is cunning and powerful.Mysteries concealed within the picture transport Yasmine to two-hundred years earlier, during the French campaign in Egypt, where life and prosperity belong to the cunning and powerful.
Adly vividly paints layers of Egyptian history in this incredible novel, that moves between 2012 and 1798, and two women who are at a crossroads in their lives with pending decisions that will determine their futures. At the heart of the story, the city of Cairo: Yasmine in modern Zamalek, surrounded by historic buildings that have stood the test of time, and Zeinab, whose Cairo has been taken from the Mamluks by Napoleon, and the men and women who came with him.
From Ottoman palaces, battles and love stories, Adly’s novel is brilliantly detailed and complex. Her characters are multi-faceted with dreams and desires that push against the tide, at points in history where political revolutions and decisions can change lives in an instant. This is a tale of a city and its people, its painted past and ever-evolving present and future, that brings with it the vibrant power of its resilient history.