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6 Most Important Books Set in Egypt

Egyptian cities serve as a backdrop in some of the most notable entries in the international literary canon.

We gave you a list of a list of five Egyptian novels you must read. Now, we're back with a list of the most prominent novels and books written by foreigners, or in a foreign language, set against an Egyptian backdrop.

Fiction

The Alexandria Quartet - Lawrence Durrell

In Durrell's most acclaimed tetralogy, Alexandria figures almost as a character in its own right throughout Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. The four novels are set around World War II, and in the first three novels of the tetralogy, the same unfolding of events is retold through the eyes of three different protagonists. The series is a testimony of Alexandria's cosmopolitanism at its finest, during a certain point in the coastal city's history.

The Map of Love - Ahdaf Soueif

In one of Ahdaf Soueif's most celebrated novels, the narrative switches between 1900 and 1997, and recounts the love story of Lady Anna Winterbourne and Sharif al-Baroudi against a backdrop of British imperialism and the Egyptian nationalist movement in Egypt at the time. The novel has received wide international acclaim, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Death on the Nile - Agatha Christie

The godmother of mystery novels took her iconic Hercule Poirot to the banks of the Nile in this novel. The novel tells the tale of betrayal and intrigue surrounding a newlywed couple on honeymoon, and through it, Christie set off a long tradition of mysteries and thrillers set in Egypt.

Beer in the Snooker Club - Waguih Ghali

This semi-autobiographical novel finds a place in most college syllabi that have anything to do with post-colonial literature. Written in English, it portrays the protagonist's struggles in finding his place between his own Egyptian culture and Western influences. The novel is considered to be one of the most important commentaries on the situation during Nasser's Egypt.

Non-Fiction

Flaubert in Egypt - Gustave Flaubert

This account of Flaubert's time in Egypt, compiled from letters, notes and diary entries, gives a thoroughly enjoyable look into 19th century Egypt, from its marketplaces to its brothels. The canonical French author's account is a heavyweight in the orientalist canon, and continues to be celebrated, both for its eroticism and the unique insights it gives into that period, despite Flaubert's colonialist perspective.

Alexandria: A History and a Guide - E.M. Forster

This was one of two books Forster wrote about Alexandria, along with Pharos and Pharillon. Forster was stationed in the city as a Red Cross volunteer during World War I, during which he wrote his guide, which is as much historical and cultural as it is literary. Forster famously befriended the celebrated Greek-Alexandrian poet, Constantine P. Cavafy in Alexandria, and the city is also thought to be the site of his first full confrontation with his homosexuality.


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