City of the Sun

City of the Sun

by Juliana Maio


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Espionage, love, and power play upon the shifting sands of wartime Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT 1941. As the Second World War rages, the city known as “Paris on the Nile” plays host to an international set who seem more interested in polo matches and swanky nightclubs than the Germans’ unrelenting advance across North Africa. Meanwhile, as refugees, soldiers, and spies stream into the city, the Nazis conspire with the emerging Muslim Brotherhood to fuel the Egyptian people’s seething resentment against their British overlords.

Ambitious American journalist Mickey Connolly has come to Cairo to report on the true state of the war. Facing expulsion by the British for not playing by their rules, he accepts a deal from the U.S. embassy that allows him to remain in the country. His covert mission: to infiltrate the city’s thriving Jewish community and locate a refugee nuclear scientist who could be key to America’s new weapons program. But Mickey is not the only one looking for the elusive scientist. A Nazi spy is also desperate to find him—and the race is on. Into this mix an enigmatic young woman appears, a refugee herself. Her fate becomes intertwined with Mickey’s, giving rise to a story of passion, entangled commitments, and half-truths.

Deftly blending the romantic noir of the classic film Casablanca with a riveting, suspenseful narrative and vivid historical detail, City of the Sun offers a stunning portrayal of a time and place that was not only pivotal for the war, but also sowed much of the turbulence in today’s Middle East.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626340510
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 03/11/2014
Pages: 380
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Juliana Maio was born in Egypt but expelled from the country with her family during the Suez Crisis. She was raised in France and completed her higher education in the United States, receiving her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Juris Doctor degree from UC Hastings.

Juliana is the co-founder of Lighthouse Productions, an independent film and television production company, with her husband, Academy Award winning film producer, Michael Phillips.  She is also a published novelist, a screenwriter, and a television series creator.  Prior to co-founding Lighthouse, Juliana practiced entertainment law for twenty-five years and also served as a studio executive.

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CITY of the SUN


Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2014 Juliana Maio
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-051-0


Libyan Desert September 1941

"He says it's true. Hitler is a Muslim, a good one. He goes to the mosque and prays five times a day," Mickey's Egyptian interpreter assured him, as he hurriedly translated the comments of the ragtag group of Bedouins who'd gathered around their Jeep. The men were tripping over each other's sentences in their eagerness to share their stories about the war with an American reporter.

"Are you kidding me, Sidi?" Mickey asked, tugging on the brim of his Detroit Tigers baseball cap.

"They say his Islamic name is Mohammed Haider and he has come here to Libya to free all Arabs everywhere from the British infidels," Sidi answered as he sheltered his eyes from the sun with his hand and squinted up at Mickey, who towered over him.

The Bedouins nodded as if they understood what Sidi had said.

"Where on earth did they get that idea?"

"They said they hear it on the radio—on the German station. They play the best music, Mister Mickey Connolly," Sidi explained.

Mickey shook his head in disbelief. He'd heard all kinds of outrageous stories since arriving in Egypt in July, but this one took the cake. With Goebbels at the helm, Hitler's mighty propaganda machine had extended its reach into the far corners of the North African desert, and the locals were eating it up. The audacity of the Germans was galling, though he had to admit the damn Krauts were brilliant at their game.

"Don't they listen to the BBC?" he griped, batting at the flies that swarmed in front of his face.

A man with a gray headscarf and a flat nose spat out a short response after Sidi relayed the question. The Bedouins laughed heartily at the cleverness of their comrade, who puffed up his chest in pride.

"Oh, yes, they do sometimes, but it's very boring," Sidi translated, barely suppressing a smile. "They tell us how to tend to rose gardens."

Mickey cracked a smile, deciding not to argue, but he felt deflated. He hadn't driven 475 miles from Cairo and defied the British High Command by crossing the border into Libya just to listen to a bunch of nomads sing the praises of the Third Reich. He'd come here for a story. Though they were not involved, the American people needed to know about this desert war. They had to be made to understand the strategic importance of Egypt, which sat at the jugular vein of the Mediterranean and whose Suez Canal constituted the Allies' lifeline to the Orient. If Hitler won here, the world would be up for grabs.

Over the last few weeks the British Army Press attaché office had become increasingly tight-lipped, but it didn't take a genius to realize that General Erwin Rommel and his mighty Afrika Korps were racing toward the Egyptian border at a furious pace, reclaiming the Libyan territory that the British had captured from the Italians. Three weeks ago, the Germans had been two hundred miles away in Benghazi; now they were only fifty miles from the border.

"Sidi, please ask these good men who they think will win the war," he requested, resuming the interview.

The question was met with an immediate and unanimous response.

"The Germans, of course," Sidi translated.

That the Brits were getting their asses kicked was not news. Facing the Germans' new long-range artillery cannons, they were at a serious disadvantage. "I wouldn't discount the Brits quite yet," Mickey cautioned, "they didn't gain control of half the world by accident."

"If you ask me, Mister Mickey Connolly, it is because of the English that we have no money to feed our families," Sidi snorted. "They take the best jobs and then look down on us for being poor. Why are they still here, anyway?"

Mickey had heard similar complaints from the fellahin, the peasants he'd met on the Delta on his way to the front, who blamed the British for the country's staggering inflation. This was not their war. Neither the Germans nor the Egyptians had declared war on one another. Yet, when the conflict had started in Europe in 1939, the British had imposed martial law in Egypt, seizing control of the ports, railways, and aerodromes, and censoring the press, effectively undermining the independence that the Egyptians had fought so hard to achieve and had theoretically gained in 1936. The Brits refused to release their grip on the country.

"A storm is brewing," Sidi warned, squinting north toward the darkening horizon. "We must hurry back through the Siwa depression."

Mickey could feel a light wind pulling at his cap. He checked his watch. It was close to 8:00 AM and the temperature must have broken a hundred degrees already. It was time to wrap up. He had gotten all he could out of the Bedouins. He thanked them by distributing the packs of Lucky Strikes he'd brought as gifts. As Sidi started pouring water into the Jeep's radiator, the boy tending the camels began to shout. He was standing on a ledge and pointing frantically into the valley below.

"Tanks," Sidi yelled over the shrieks of the nomads, who were rushing toward the boy. "Oh, I hope this is no big trouble," he said fretfully.

Mickey grinned at his lucky break and patted Sidi's shoulder. Maybe he would get a story after all, a belated present to himself for his twenty-sixth birthday last week. He reached into the backseat of the Jeep for his binoculars and hurried to the ledge to join the agitated Bedouins.

He spotted a deployment of a dozen British Cruiser tanks rumbling across the sand below. Routine reconnaissance, he assumed, but quickly the whomp and thump of shells told him otherwise. The tanks were being hit. Explosions shook the earth. The Bedouins dropped to the ground, but Mickey remained standing. His heart was pounding as he feverishly studied the horizon, trying to see where the enemy fire was coming from.

There! To the left of the Cruisers, he caught sight of a detachment of six German tanks emerging from behind a small hill. An ambush. And these were not ordinary German tanks. They were Panzer IVs, monsters that were heavier, more powerful, and had greater firing range than anything the British had ever come up against. He had heard rumors about them, but they'd been dismissed by a British intelligence officer who'd told him that the Germans did not have the necessary equipment to unload such mammoth tanks at the docks.

A deafening roar shook the ground violently, making Mickey almost lose his balance, but he managed to steady himself. Huge pillars of sand and plumes of smoke enveloped the British tanks as shells flew back and forth. It was the most frightening and exciting thing he had ever experienced.

The Bedouins scattered, running away as fast as they could.

"We must leave, Mister Mickey. I don't care how much you pay me. We must go." Sidi grabbed Mickey's arm tightly and would not let go.

"Calm down, habibi," Mickey urged, wrestling his arm free. "We're safe here. There is nothing to fear. The action is way down below." He raised his binoculars again. Good God! The Germans had mounted their new long range 75mm guns on the Panzer IVs. The combination of range and mobility was proving deadly.

Fresh explosions created a storm of sand as the rhythm of the rounds grew faster and faster. Two Cruisers were on fire. A rush of adrenaline surged through Mickey's body as he spotted a German officer peering through his observation slit and shouting to his men. The turret of the Panzer swiveled and the tank lurched forward over the crest of a small dune, firing continuously, its armor-piercing shells plunging into a Cruiser and tearing its hull apart. In a flash, the ammunition and fuel inside ignited. Mickey bit back a cry and averted his eyes as the tank and the men inside were consumed in a fiery supernova. The Panzers were unstoppable, methodically obliterating the Cruisers one by one. The Allied shells made little impact against the Panzers' toughened turrets, bouncing off the iron armor and exploding harmlessly on the ground.

Suddenly, an ear-piercing blast erupted fifty feet away from him, throwing up a tower of sand and sending rocks and shrapnel flying in all directions. The deafening boom lifted him off his feet, and he landed on his stomach a few feet away under a massive cloud of smoke. His hands were scratched and bloody. A goddamn stray round, he thought. Stunned by the blow, he instinctively curled into a ball and wrapped his arms around his head to protect himself from the rocks and debris that rained down.

When the cascade ceased, he snapped to his feet and started to run for safety. A muffled cry stopped him. Sidi was rolling down the slope toward the battle. Mickey hesitated for a second before racing toward him as another thunderous blast shook the ground nearby. Shrapnel and rocks rained down again. He panicked. Had they been seen and targeted by the Germans? "Sidi," he yelled, looking around frantically through the smoke. He found him lying motionless at the bottom of the slope.

He had to get to him before the next round hit. Using his arms to protect his head from the flying rocks and angling his feet sideways so he wouldn't fall, he hurried to him. The Egyptian was curled into a fetal position. His eyes were closed and blood dripped from his forehead and jaw. Mickey turned him on his back. He was breathing.

"Sidi, can you hear me? Can you hear me?" he shouted, again and again.

The corner of Sidi's mouth twitched, and he struggled to formulate a response. "I hope you got your story now," he uttered in a hoarse whisper.

Mickey blinked. "Can you hold on to my neck?" he asked. There was no time to wait. He grabbed the Egyptian by his flak jacket and lifted him to his feet.

Sidi whined as his knees buckled and he fell back to the ground.

In the valley, the tanks were still firing at one another, oily smoke billowing high into the sky. Mickey knelt down and hoisted Sidi over his shoulder as best he could. They had to get out of here, out of the Germans' sight. And fast.


"Eins, zwei, drei ..." Heinrich Kesner grunted as he pulled himself up to the iron crossbar that hung from the ceiling, counting until he reached fifteen to complete his third set of chin-ups. He'd already done his sit-ups, push-ups, and weight lifting. "A sound mind in a healthy body," he told himself as he glanced out the open window and let the cool breeze from the Nile dry the sweat that had formed on his face and neck and made his undershirt stick to his skin.

From the small gym on the foredeck he could see the sun glistening over the soft waves of the river that rocked his dahabieh, as the Arabs called these houseboats. At eight o'clock in the morning, Cairo was peaceful, and even his neighbor, Major Blundell of the British RAF, was still sleeping off his booze.

But for Kesner the day was already in high gear. He was going to Alexandria today on urgent instructions from the SS. A Jew, a polio victim with a pronounced limp, would be arriving from Istanbul on the El Aziz steamship at noon. He was to keep an eye on him until he received further instructions. It was not a simple assignment, but Kesner knew he could count on the Muslim Brotherhood's assistance. The Reich had been generous to the Islamic organization, financing their ongoing guerrilla war against their common enemy, the English.

It was the first time Kesner had been contacted directly by the SS, and he felt honored to serve the Führer's elite paramilitary corps. His prior communiqués had always been with the Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization to whom he fed information regarding Allied military strength and supplies in preparation for Rommel's invasion of Egypt. His job was becoming easier because of the large number of dissident groups here. From the palace, to the military, to the religious and youth groups opposed to the British occupation, he was never short of informants.

Heinrich, you're a lucky boy. The SS has taken notice of you, he thought as he inhaled the cool air deeply. He loved being on the river, which evoked fond memories of the canoe expeditions on the Danube he had led as a rising star in the Hitler Youth organization. Who knows, maybe he'd get to live in Bavaria again if he were transferred to the SS after the war.

The Nazis had promised all SS officers that they would be given parcels of land when the war ended. He would want his near Regensburg where he was born, a charming town on the Danube. Olga, his wife, who was expecting their first child—a boy, he hoped—would enjoy raising their family there. But first things first; there was a war to be won. Deutschland Erwache! (Germany Awake!) was the rallying cry at Nazi Party meetings. It was time for the German people to reclaim their place in the world.

Kesner drank the freshly squeezed orange juice that his servant had left for him and stopped in front of the gilded mirror on the wall. He opened his mouth wide and inspected his teeth, pressing each with his finger for cavities—a daily ritual. Pleased, he now looked at himself. His brown eyes and black hair had won him the nickname Schwarze Hund (Black Dog) in his youth. Though neither blond nor blue-eyed, Kesner was proud of his rugged jaw and strong brows, which were unmistakably Aryan traits. But his swarthy coloring coupled with his fluency in Arabic did prove useful. He could pass as an Egyptian when it served his purposes, having lived here as a child. When he was eight, six months after his father died, his mother married an Egyptian man and readily agreed to move from Regensburg to Alexandria. Five years later, she buried this husband as well and they moved back to Germany where she quickly found a third husband. "Women are weak," he said contemptuously.

Before descending the wrought iron spiral staircase to his master bedroom, he passed through the living room, which, like the rest of the boat, was decorated with crystal chandeliers and ornate Louis XIV oak furnishings with gold inlay. It was too gaudy for his taste, but houseboats were hard to come by. He was lucky to have found it, and at a reasonable price. Usually the second homes of wealthy Cairenes who charged a small fortune to rent them, dahabiehs offered an escape from the smells of the city and a respite from the suffocating heat of the summer months. They were in high demand by the Allied brass who had been pouring into Cairo since Rommel swooped into Libya last February to rescue Mussolini's army.

For Kesner, the dahabieh, free of surrounding steel structures, was a perfect place from which to launch his radio transmissions to Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and conduct his clandestine activities in the seclusion he needed, notwithstanding the presence of British officers on houseboats nearby. Twice daily, at 9:15 and 4:15, the American Embassy radioed its secret bulletins to Washington. The Abwehr had long ago cracked America's code, enabling him to monitor their daily exchanges of information about Allied activities and military strength. This was one of his best sources of information. Unfortunately, today he'd have to miss the morning American communiqué as he had to leave early for Alexandria. But first he needed to send a message to his contact at the Abwehr confirming that he'd received the photo of the Jew. His radio room was in the bowels of the boat and was always impossibly hot. He would shower afterward.

He drew back a velvet curtain on the far side of the bedroom, revealing a locked, reinforced wooden door that opened to a small storage room. He kept its only key on his person at all times. Once inside the room he removed the lid of a large mahogany chest that held a phonograph and pressed a hidden catch near the turntable. The top of the device lifted up, revealing a stepladder into a claustrophobic hole.

At the bottom of the ladder was a small folding chair next to a radio transmitter. He switched on a tiny lamp and shut the lid above him, sliding the iron deadbolt as a precaution. His only means of escape would be through a hatch that opened into the river. He turned on the transmitter and tapped out his message to Tripoli over several short intervals, taking care not to stay on the air too long lest his signal be picked up. He signed off, Schwarze Hund.

Ten minutes later Kesner was showered, his wet hair parted in the middle, and was buckling the wide brown belt of a Polish offi- cer's uniform. It was his disguise of choice whenever he left the boat, and it served him well. He'd convinced his RAF neighbor that he was a captain who, like many men of influence, was avoiding being called up. This was an easy lie to trade on—the Polish army was too disorganized to form combat units, let alone track down wayward captains. Kesner put on a black three-corner cap and fetched the photo of the Jew from his dresser. The man was in his early twenties and was smiling for his passport photo. His round nose and fat lips were dead Jewish giveaways. On the back, the words Erik Blumenthal, Copenhagen, 1936 were written in pencil. "I'm looking forward to meeting you, Herr Blumenthal," Kesner said.


Excerpted from CITY of the SUN by JULIANA MAIO. Copyright © 2014 Juliana Maio. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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