The Lady of Zamalek
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.
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'