Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed

Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed

by Ahdaf Soueif
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

When throngs of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Ahdaf Soueif—author, journalist, lifelong progressive—was among them. Now, in this deeply personal work, Soueif summons her storytelling talents to trace her city’s—and nation’s—ongoing transformation.
     

Overview

When throngs of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Ahdaf Soueif—author, journalist, lifelong progressive—was among them. Now, in this deeply personal work, Soueif summons her storytelling talents to trace her city’s—and nation’s—ongoing transformation.
         She writes of the youth who led the revolts, and of the jubilation in the streets at Mubarak’s departure. We then watch as Egyptians fight for democracy, as the interim military government throws up obstacles at every step, and as an Islamist is voted into power. Against this stormy backdrop, Soueif casts memories of her own Cairo—the open-air cinema; her family’s land, in sight of the pyramids—and affirms the beauty of this ancient city. Soueif's postscript considers Egypt’s more recent turns in its difficult but deeply inspiring path toward its great human aims.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Profound, enthralling. . . . Fiercely poetic. . . . Soueif paints a picture of a people who realized, suddenly and collectively, the scope of their own potential.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“There are many records of the Egyptian revolution, but Cairo takes us on a more intimate journey. . . . [Soueif] speaks of her own story but also speaks for thousands, perhaps even millions, of other Cairenes.” —The Guardian (London)

“Compelling. . . . [Soueif] possesses a revolutionary’s zeal but also an artist’s regret.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“Recounts with joy and anguish the revolution that toppled the Mubarak regime—the hope raised by a new generation demanding freedom.” —New York Post

“[Cairo] takes the reader to the front lines of the conflict in the streets with vignettes worthy of a novel. . . . Soueif’s ability to render grand events in human terms and put Egypt’s current conflict into historical and global context makes Cairo a book that demands attention.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Soueif is a political analyst and commentator of the best kind.” —London Review of Books

“Offers an invaluable window into the mind-set of a large proportion of the engaged Egyptian population. . . . A testimony to the dramatic cultural shift that has taken place in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world in public attitudes toward power.” —Bookforum

“Bursts of lyricism, poetry and love illuminate the factual account and political commentary, and it works beautifully.” —The Independent (London)

“Heartfelt, courageous, and hopeful. . . . An intimate portrait of an extraordinary city at an extraordinary moment in its history.” —Evening Standard (London)

“The author captures beautifully her anguish at Cairo’s degradation during the years of dictatorship and Mubarak’s calculated sowing of division among the people. . . . With the recent violent eruptions in the country, Soueif’s work as an eloquent witness is a work in progress.” —Publishers Weekly

“Soueif offers both an extraordinary eyewitness document and a sense of the historical import of the revolution. . . . A deeply personal, engaged tribute by the far-flung Egyptian novelist and journalist as she returned to witness the revolution in her hometown.” —Kirkus Reviews

“As an active participant and a keenly observant chronicler of the impassioned rebellion, [Soueif’s] firsthand account offers insight into the heady days of the original revolution and its tumultuous aftermath. . . . Interweaves affectionate and peaceful memories of Cairo, Egypt, and her family into the fiery narrative. As Egyptian citizens continue to live the revolution, she provides a uniquely personal perspective on both the events of 2011 and the ensuing years.” —Booklist

Publishers Weekly
What novelist and translator Soueif (The Map of Love; Mezzaterra) saw during the Egyptian revolution of 2011 was no less than the upheaval of an entire order of Egyptian society. Hailing from a generation that tried and failed to bring down the Mubarak dictatorship years before, Soueif rushed back to her native city from a literary festival in India on January 25, 2011, after she heard news of unrest erupting in Tahrir Square. She affectionately refers to the now world-famous square as the Midan (from its Arabic name: Midan el-Tahrir) throughout her diary of the decisive first 18 days, which is followed by accounts tracking later events during the year, such as the elections. Her grown children and nephews and nieces raced home, some from abroad, joining activist siblings, friends, aunts, and other relatives. They participated in spontaneous street demonstrations and provided aid to protestors, as well as setting up film and Internet stations. Soueif writes of her tremendous pride in the younger generation, who faced down government thugs, snipers perched on buildings, tanks, and security police. Many received beatings, or were imprisoned (her own nephew, Alaa, was jailed) or, in the case of 843 protesters, killed. The author captures beautifully her anguish at Cairo’s degradation during the years of dictatorship and Mubarak’s calculated sowing of division among the people. Yet with the recent violent eruptions in the country, Soueif’s work as an eloquent witness is a work in progress. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Published in the UK in January 2012, this work concerns not only the upheaval in Cairo that led to the fall of the Mubarak regime but the city itself, recalled here as the heart and soul of her family. It was originally scheduled for publication here in April 2013 but was delayed so that Booker-short-listed novelist could update the UK edition to include commentary on events following the election of Muhammad Morsi as Egypt's president, though she won't be able to add anything about Morsi's fall.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-28
A deeply personal, engaged tribute by the far-flung Egyptian novelist and journalist as she returned to witness the revolution in her hometown. When the conflicts broke out in Egypt at the end of January 2011, Cairo-born Soueif (Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground, 2005, etc.), having made her home largely in London since her marriage to the London critic and author Ian Hamilton (d. 2001), quickly returned to join the protests in Tahrir Square, as did her sons and many of her relatives. Tahrir is the Cairenes' "Holy Grail," Soueif writes, the locus for demonstrations against the government since 1972, when the author took part in protests against Anwar Sadat's oppressive regime. It has taken the next generation, her children's, to prevail, and Soueif declares gallantly: "We follow them and pledge what's left of our lives to their effort." Early on, the author offers an in-the-moment account of the crucial first days of street action, often messy, confused and involving violent clashes with the police, though undertaken by friends, family and strangers alike with heartwarming camaraderie. Then she moves to October 2011 to show how the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces hijacked the revolution without keeping President Hosni Mubarak's decapitated regime from "growing a new head." Soueif then moves back in time to the period of February 1-12. While being jostled in crowds, blinded by tear gas, harassed by the paramilitary thug militias, the dreaded baltagis, the author passionately evokes the spirit of the beloved city where she was born, through neighborhoods and buildings long-suffering and dear to her--e.g., pleading with police to cease torturing prisoners in the iconic Egyptian Museum. Soueif offers both an extraordinary eyewitness document and a sense of the historical import of the revolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345803511
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/07/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

FRIDAY, 28 JANUARY, 5:00 P.M.

The river is a still, steely gray, a dull pewter. Small scattered fires burn and fizz in the water. We’ve pushed out from the shore below the Ramses Hilton and are heading into midstream. My two nieces, Salma and Mariam, are on either side of me in the small motorboat. As we get farther from the shore, our coughing and choking subside. We can draw breath, even though the breath burns. And we can open our eyes—
 
To see an opaque dusk, heavy with tear gas. Up ahead, Qasr el-Nil Bridge is a mass of people, all in motion, but all in place. We look back at where we were just minutes ago, on 6 October Bridge, and see a Central Security Forces personnel carrier on fire, backing off, four young men chasing it, leaping at it, beating at its windshield. The vehicle is reversing wildly, careering backward east toward Downtown. Behind us, a ball of fire lands in the river, a bright new pool of flame in the water. The sky is gray—so different from the airy twilight you normally get on the river at this time of day. The Opera House looms dark on our right, and we can barely make out the slender height of the Cairo Tower. We don’t know it yet, but the lights of Cairo will not come on tonight.
 
A great shout goes up from Qasr el-Nil. I look at Salma and Mariam. “Yes, let’s,” they say. I tell the boatman we’ve changed our minds: we don’t want to cross the river to Giza and go home. We want to be dropped off under Qasr el-Nil Bridge.
 
And that is why we—myself and two beautiful young women—appeared suddenly in the Qasr el-Nil Underpass among the Central Security vehicles racing to get out of town and all the men leaning over the parapet above us with stones in their hands stopped in midthrow and yelled “Run! Run!” and held off with the stones so they wouldn’t hit us as we skittered through the screeching vehicles to a spot where we could scramble up the bank and join the people at the mouth of the bridge.
 
That day the government—the regime that had ruled us for thirty years—had cut off our communications. No mobile service, no Internet for all of Egypt. In a way, looking back, I think this concentrated our minds, our will, our energy: each person was in one place, totally and fully committed to that place, unable to be aware of any other, knowing they had to do everything they could for it and trusting that other people in other places were doing the same.
 
So we ran through the underpass, scrambled up the bank, and found ourselves within, inside, and part of the masses. When we’d seen the crowd from a distance, it had seemed like one bulk, solid. Close up like this, it was people, individual persons with spaces between them—spaces into which you could fit. We stood on the traffic island in the middle of the road. Behind us was Qasr el-Nil Bridge, in front of us was Tahrir, and we were doing what we Egyptians do best, and what the regime ruling us had tried so hard to destroy: we had come together, as individuals, millions of us, in a great cooperative effort. And this time our project was to save and to reclaim our country. We stood on the island in the middle of the road, and that was the moment I became part of the revolution.

Meet the Author

Ahdaf Soueif is the author of two novels, In the Eye of the Sun and The Map of Love, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1999; a story collection, I Think of You; and an essay collection, Mezzaterra: Notes from the Common Ground. She lives in Cairo, where she was born.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >