Cairo has captured the imagination of many writers with its history, foreign policies, and even the everyday lives of its diverse citizens. It’s uncommon to come across a complex city with a history of over twenty centuries. Writers from around the globe have put their pens to paper trying to decipher the beauty this city beholds, but it never did enough justice.
Below are thirteen books describing the city that are closest to capturing its true beauty!
Urban Space in Contemporary Egyptian Literature: Portraits of Cairo – Mara Naaman
This book is part of a series called Literature and Cultures of the Islamic World, and this one focuses on Cairo. It draws everything to and from its centre point, Downtown Cairo, from Egyptian novelists, Arab literary criticism, and cultural theories, to re-examining Cairo’s urban spaces.
Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution – Don Stone Karl & Basma Hamdy
This book about graffiti covering Cairo’s streets since the revolution has essays written by the artists and political analysts, with a timeline of the events at which they were drawn. What could be considered a picture book is actually a historical reference to all the pieces that were lost by being painted over. This controversial masterpiece has reportedly been banned from entering Egyptian borders.
Ô Nuit, Ô Mes Yeux: Le Caire / Beyrouth / Damas / Jérusalem – Lamia Ziadé
Available in French and Arabic, this illustrated book takes you back in time. It’s filled with short stories centred around the nightlife of the 20th century in multiple locations, including Cairo.
Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control – David Sims
The author does a fantastic job of disentangling Cairo’s hustle and bustle. Focusing on the millions wandering the streets, he counteracts the numerous claims that our city’s main problem is the people. In fact, he finds beauty in the chaos and how it works perfectly for its citizens.
River God – Wilbur Smith
An adventure novel set in Ancient Egypt during the invasion of the Hyksos, River God follows a love triangle between the Pharaoh, a lord’s daughter, and the soldier she’s in love with.
Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz
This book gives an inside look at the cultural complexities of the members of a middle-class family of Egyptians during the British invasion. The storyline runs spans from World War I to World War II, showcasing life’s movement for the characters over the years.
The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell
The Alexandria Quartet is actually a four-part book that takes place before and throughout World War II. The first three books, Justine, Mountolive, and Balthazar, narrate the same events of a love story but from different perspectives, while the fourth, Clea, takes place six years later.
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David – Lawrence Wright
Walking us through the thirteen days, one day at a time, of the 1978 Camp David conference where the peace treaty was signed, the book draws the whole picture aiding readers in understanding how important this event was in history.
Cairo: City of Sand – Maria Golia
Check out this book for an accurate portrayal of citizens’ lives before the revolution, giving insight into what drove their outrage. In addition, it tackles numerous various aspects like religion, values, habits, racism, and above all, how they were able to bring ex-president Hosni Mubarak’s era to an end.
Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie
After the world-famous detective novelist’s stay in Egypt, she dedicated this masterpiece to her time spent on the Nile. It follows a detective’s vacation to Egypt that turns into a murder mystery.
Cairo: The City Victorious – Max Rodenbeck
Read on for a rundown of Cairo’s heritage, all the way from its early beginnings by the Pharaohs to the chaotic jungle it is today.
A Woman of Cairo – Noel Barber
Taking place during World War II, all the way up to the 1952 revolution, it tells the story of a British diplomat’s son and the daughter of an Egyptian pasha, who are neighbours. With the British occupation in Egypt coming to an end, their love is put to the test.
In the Eye of the Sun – Ahdaf Soueif
Life in Egypt over a decade is narrated through a memorable heroine’s life. The intertwining of politics, love, and self-discovery of a young Egyptian woman is portrayed from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.