- The Lady of Zamalek
The Lady of Zamalek
Translated by Peter Daniel
Spanning twentieth-century Egyptian history and opening with the true story of a prominent Cairo businessman’s murder, this rags-to-riches story wondrously combines real-life events with fiction, told by a “magical storyteller”
It was in the spring of 1927 that Cairo's attention was captured by the shocking murder of prominent businessman Solomon Cicurel in his Nile-side villa in the upscale Zamalek district. It was a burglary that went wrong, and four culprits were soon arrested. Their trial was concluded swiftly, their punishments were decisive, and society breathed a sigh of relief.
In Ashraf El-Ashmawi's telling, there was a fifth accomplice, Abbas, who fled to his home in the countryside to lay low until the murder trial blew over. However, he did not escape empty-handed and kept stolen documents from Cicurel's villa, ones that he imagined would lead him to a hidden safe. Abbas hatched a plan to return to the capital, find the safe, and make his fortune. The first step was to place his sister Zeinab with Cicurel's widow, Paula.
Abbas’s rags-to-riches story unfolds as a tale of modern Egypt, taking in the Second World War, the 1952 revolution and rise of Nasser, the 1967 war, and the Sadat and Mubarak eras. Spanning the 1920s to the 1990s, El-Ashmawi deftly weaves together history with fiction in this intriguing English-language debut.
Ashraf El-Ashmawi is an Egyptian author, judge, and legal scholar who is a regular contributor to newspapers and online publications, writing about crime prevention and social issues. The author of nine critically received novels in Arabic, in 2013 he was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (the Arabic “Booker”) for his novel Toya, in 2014 he won best novel at the Cairo International Book Fair for Barman, and in 2019 he again won best novel at the Bahrain Cultural Forum for Sheepdogs. His books have been translated into French, German, Japanese, Italian, among other languages, and The Lady of Zamalek is his first novel to be translated into English.
Peter Daniel, a long-term resident of Egypt, has worked as a teacher of Arabic as a foreign language and an Arabic-to-English translator for many years.
One of 51 Favorite Books of 2021 by The Washington Independent Review of Books
"A grand family drama set in a society at once strange and familiar, rife with surprise revelations that keep the reader fully engaged. . . .It deserves to be a bestseller."—Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Review of Books
"There's something very compelling about opening a book to read about a place you've never visited before, from the eyes of an author who knows it well." —Leah Dearborn, LitReactor
"Set in the confines of one toxic family as its members, over decades, perpetually attempt to outmaneuver one another, the narrative creates a sense of vicious hopelessness. In the family, as, it’s implied, the country around them, this cycle swallows all; even acts of extreme insurrection feed back into a negative cycle."—Talya Zax, LitHub
"The sweep of Egyptian history and the portrait of class, social norms, and values are fascinating"—Historical Novels Review
"A brilliantly spun tale. . . playing with politics and powerful people. El-Ashmawi paints a story where money comes and goes, power changes hands, and where both can disappear in an instant."—Arab News
"A bold attempt to reimagine not only the transformations of the Zamalek district of Cairo, but also those of the Egyptian nation itself."—Dr. Mohamed Afifi, al-Dostoor
"Ashraf El-Ashmawy holds a scalpel to dissect the classes of Egyptian society over more than half a century.” —Bilal Ramadan, al-Youm al-Sabe'