Nezar AlSayyad: Cairo

Cairo in reverse

Grazia Gunn


Cairo: Histories of a City
by Nezar AlSayyad
Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $45 hb, 344 pp, 9780674047860


Italo Calvino once wrote that ‘cities are like dreams: their rules seem absurd, their perspectives are often deceitful, and everything in them conceals something else’, hence ‘we should take delight not in a city’s wonders, whether these number seven or seventy, but in the answers a city can give to questions we pose, or in the questions it asks us in return’. Nezar AlSayyad reminds us of Calvino’s remark in this marvellously learned and readable study, which traces the major changes to the urban form of Cairo from the time of Rameses II (1290–1224 bce) to that of Osni Mubarak in the twenty-first century, and which poses, in this same spirit of enquiry, a number of suggestive questions.

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