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Memoir

Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef

The Nile runs straight through the middle of Cairo, from south to north like a grand zip. In the middle of this citied stretch of river there is an island known colloquially by the name of the suburb that crowds it: Zamalek. Once the grounds of a summer palace, the island became a colonial stronghold in the 1880s, when an extravagant leisure club was built for British Army officers, replete with croquet lawns, a polo field, and pony stables. Now, Zamalek is a restless mix of affluence and decay: home to old money, new expatriates, and crumbling art-deco apartment blocks – the last gasp of Nasser-era rent control. Embassy gardens thrive behind concrete walls and razor wire, while national service recruits doze in the heat, chins propped on the barrels of their AK-47s. American fast-food chains rub greasy shoulders with antique stores full of French rococo and faux-Napoleonic gilt. The ponies outlasted the British Empire, and can still be booked for riding lessons, but the summer palace has been swallowed by a Marriott Hotel. And on the busiest street of this well-storied isle – where the everyday traffic is as loud as a rock concert – there is a bookshop.

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From the Archive

November 2003, no. 256

Alan Atkinson reviews 'Dancing with Strangers' by Inga Clendinnen

Anyone who heard Inga Clendinnen’s 1999 Boyer Lectures or who has listened to her in any other way will hear her voice clearly in this book: contemplative, reflective, warm, gently paced. Dancing with Strangers seems to have been written as if it were meant to be read aloud. It reaches out to its listeners ...

From the Archive

From the Archive

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