Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra

Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra

by Peter Stothard
     
 

When Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, finds himself stranded in Alexandria in the winter of 2010 after his flight to South Africa has been cancelled, he sets out to explore a nation on the brink of revolution. Guided by two native Egyptians, Stothard traces his own life-long interest in the history of Cleopatra, and his repeated

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Overview

When Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, finds himself stranded in Alexandria in the winter of 2010 after his flight to South Africa has been cancelled, he sets out to explore a nation on the brink of revolution. Guided by two native Egyptians, Stothard traces his own life-long interest in the history of Cleopatra, and his repeated failure to write the book about her that he had always wanted to.

In Alexandria, part memoir and part travel literature, Stothard was the sights and sounds of the ancient city to reconnect with the formative experiences of his childhood education, and his literary career. Melancholy and sometimes humorous, Alexandria offers a first-hand glimpse into the fracturing police state of Hosni Mubarak, before the uprising in Tahir Square changed everything.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A chance trip to Alexandria and a lifelong love affair with Cleopatra coalesce in Times Literary Supplement editor Stothard’s intriguing amalgam of travel memoir and history lesson. What began as a trip to South Africa in 2011 became, due to weather, a journey to an Alexandria on the cusp of the Arab Spring, a place Stothard (Spartacus Road) had long associated with the most famous of ancient Egyptian women. Throughout the years, beginning in his Essex childhood and continuing through his time at Oxford, Stothard attempted seven times to complete his book on Cleopatra, failing each time to capture the essence of the woman who’d stolen his classicist’s heart. Staying in Alexandria’s Metropole Hotel and guided through the city by the at turns effusive and secretive Socratis and Mahmoud, Stothard relates not only his encounters with the remnants of Cleopatra throughout Alexandria but also the origins of his fascination with the Egyptian queen, a passion he shared with his lifelong friend Maurice. He presents each failed version of his book as both a snapshot of a certain period in Cleopatra’s doomed life—from her arrival in Egypt from Greece to her affair with Julius Caesar—and as glimpses into his own history as a schoolboy, classical scholar, and journalist. That a clear picture of Cleopatra does not emerge by the end of Stothard’s Alexandrian sojourn is beside the point; it is his own journey that, intertwined with his queen’s, resonates the most. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Literary. (Aug.)
Library Journal
09/01/2013
Stothard (editor, Times Literary Supplement) is no novice when it comes to fusing memoir, history, and travelog. His 2010 book, Spartacus Road: A Journey Through Ancient Italy, presented a 71 BCE Roman slave rebellion as an allegory for his fight with pancreatic cancer. Here, he performs a similar act of juxtaposition, comparing Cleopatra's dramatic life with the fading glory of the British Empire and contemporary Egypt on the eve of the collapse of Hosni Mubarak's regime. The book is spiced with colorful people such as the mother of the author's tour guide, a former diva who believes that Cleopatra is ever present; Callimachus (305–240 BCE), a poet and deputy librarian of the Library of Alexandria; and Maurice, the author's friend from childhood, who liked to dress up as Cleopatra. VERDICT Stothard's style calls to mind Proust's In Search of Lost Time, but casual readers may feel disoriented by the maze of multiple narratives. This book is more suitable for readers already familiar with the historical background in which Stothard's reminiscences are grounded.—Victor Or, Surrey Libs., BC
Kirkus Reviews
A thoroughly enjoyable combination of history, autobiography, travel and general musings about Alexandria. Times Literary Supplement editor Stothard (The Spartacus Road, 2010, etc.) started writing about Cleopatra when he was in elementary school, and this book is the eighth version of his work. A vacation interrupted by weather landed the author in Alexandria, the Egyptian city of the Ptolemys. He was somehow adopted by two very peculiar guides--or guards--who did their best to lead, or mislead, his quest to finish the story. Cleopatra was the last of her line; her oft-told story of intrigue, lust and no small amount of genius now has deeper background. There is no way to trace the steps of Caesar or Marc Antony as they wooed her. The great library burned down, and the lighthouse is at the bottom of the sea, as are most of the buildings of old Alexandria. Stothard's journey through prep school, public school, Oxford and Fleet Street is the curious history of his attempts at fully grasping Cleopatra's story. The unusual findings of his schoolmates as they combed through the classics--e.g., Antony's drunkenness, odd red tents of mermen--intrigue readers, but not as much as the players with which most are unfamiliar. Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar's continuators (extending the legend), is but one of the characters Stothard uses effectively to provide a sharper picture. It is these writings of poets and historians from 2,000 years ago that bring together the Greek and Roman influences that made Alexandria great. It is a joy to watch the classically trained mind assemble the story. Don't try to categorize this book; just read it and let it flow over you.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781468303704
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
08/01/2013
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
1,469,128
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 8.06(h) x 1.38(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Spartacus Road:

"Elegant, erudite…this engaging book reminds us that, for all the secrets the story of Spartacus refuses to give up, it still leads us back to the heart of things." —The Wall Street Journal

"One of those rare books in which there is something of unexpected interest on every page, and which makes the reader wish he or she could pack a small bag and accompany the author on his travels."—Daily Beast

"A thoroughly enjoyable combination of history, autobiography, travel and general musings about Alexandria….It is these writings of poets and historians from 2,000 years ago that bring together the Greek and Roman influences that made Alexandria great. It is a joy to watch the classically trained mind assemble the story. Don’t try to categorize this book; just read it and let it flow over you." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 

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