From the Banks of the Nile

Staff PicksShaw/Watha T. Daniel Library

From the Banks of the Nile

Egypt Revisited

It doesn’t take a riddle of the Sphinx to understand why the world has been so fascinated with Egypt - the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, King Tutankhamen, Cleopatra, the Library of Alexandria, and the the mighty Nile just to name a few things. There is something epic about this country in the northeast corner of Africa. Here, for your perusal, is a taste of a few things Egyptian.

Egypt-omania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs by Bob Brier

I recently stumbled upon this book and it’s what got me thinking about Egypt. Brier dives right in exploring our global obsession with the land of the Pharaohs. Ancient obsession started with the Greeks and Romans. He credits the 1798 expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt as initiating the modern obsession with Egypt as well as discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter in the 1920s. He has amassed a large collection of memorabilia infused with images and symbols of ancient Egypt and shares a part of his collection in 16 pages of beautifully colored plates. A fascinating look at how this ancient civilization has never lost the ability to mesmerize.

The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz

Nobel Prize winning author Najib Mahfuz is probably Egypt’s most well known and most read writer outside of the country and is often referred to as the Dickens or Zola of Egypt. The author’s epic Cairo Trilogy is set in said city around the time of World War I and chronicles the life and daily activities of the el-Gawad family: its patriarchal father, his wife and their children over a period of twenty five years. Mahfouz’s descriptions of daily life in Cairo are so rich you can almost smell and taste them. He beautifully and evocatively describes the personal and political struggles in a changing city and country and its place in the world.

Nile Style: Egyptian Cuisine and Culture by Amy Riolo

French,  Italian, Thai, Chinese, Indian food … Egyptian food? Of course! Egyptians eat too, but Egyptian cuisine does not typically come to mind when one thinks of the world’s finest cuisines. Welcome Amy Riolo’s Nile Style. This DC-area author has assembled a multi-ethnic resource of over 150 recipes celebrating the country’s diverse religious population and its delicious food. The book includes a fascinating Egyptian food history timeline, glossary of ingredients and even a “where to dine in Egypt” section. Bi’l hana wa-shifa! (Bon appetit!) or literally “with health and gratification.”

Once Upon a Revolution: an Egyptian Story by Thanassis Cambanis

By now we are all well aware of what has been dubbed “The Arab Spring” and its ramifications around the Middle East and North Africa. Beirut based New York Times reporter Thanassis Cambanis reports on the revolution in Egypt by examining the lives of two very different men who respond and react to the events in divergent ways. Moaz, an activist with the Moslem Brotherhood and Basem, a middle class architect are two individuals that he follows chronicling how each in their own way struggles to make change a reality. There are many voices, many dreams for the future but one unifying factor - the desire for a transformation of their society.

City Squares: Eighteen Writers on the Spirit and Significance of Squares Around the World by Catie Marron

More and more people are moving into urban areas. Half of the world’s population live in cities. At the heart of most cities is some form of common gathering space or square. Catie Marron has assembled various writers from around the world to write about eighteen of the most iconic city squares. The book is divided into three sections: Culture, Geopolitics, and History. I’ve included this on the list because of the chapter by Jehane Noujaim titled “Tahrir Square, Cairo: Lost and Found in the Square.” It is difficult to write about Egypt and the last six years without mentioning Tahrir Square and the role it played as a “place” of community, meeting, mobilization, and action. This essay spotlights the square’s role at the peak of the revolution.  

All Strangers are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World by Zora O’Neill

When we hear about Egypt or the Middle East in the news it is usually something negative: suicide bombings, war, religious strife, ISIS. Part of Zora O’Neill's reason for writing this book was to show normal daily life in the region. Studying Arabic early in the pre-9/11 days wasn’t seen as something lucrative or very common. She studied classical Arabic in the 1990s and earned her masters in Arabic literature. O'Neill was once asked “you’re majoring in aerobics?” A decade or so later O’Neill embarks upon a yearlong language seminar to expand her Arabic. Her studies begin in Cairo, Egypt where she spends two months and then continues on to Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and finally Morocco. Each of these countries represents one of the four main dialects of Arabic. Throughout O'Neill displays the richness of the Arabic language and along the way exposes the reader to a people that most know little about.  

Lonely Planet Egypt written and researched by Anthony Sattin, Jessica Lee

If you’re like me, you like to travel but may be limited by lack of time or resources to actually go everywhere you’d like to. Thus, I am a big fan of armchair travel and can often be found with my nose in the New York Times Travel section, a popular travelogue or any travel guide published by Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. I especially appreciate both publishers because each includes rich sections on a country’s history, arts, environment and food and usually a substantial bibliography/discography to help further your exploration. The most recent Lonely Planet Egypt guide is no different: beautiful photos, great itineraries, and must see locations. Places to sleep and dine may frequently change in each successive guide but information on history, culture, and cuisine tends to be constant.  

Bon voyage!