The one place I’ve always wanted to see, but haven’t yet, is Egypt, and Michael David Lukas brings Egypt forward in this book using three perspectives, an infamous scroll and a millennium in
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
Joseph is the son of Egyptian parents, born and raised in the United States. His mother, an Egyptian Jew, left Cairo in the 1950’s with her family, but as a child had befriended Ahmed al-Raqb, eldest son of the watchman at the Ibn Ezra Synagogue, an inherited position handed down from father to eldest son for over a millennium. A graduate student at Berkeley, news of his father’s death is followed by a small package containing a note, a business card and a small piece of parchment, Arabic on one side, Hebrew on the other, cased in glass. Thus starts a search for Joseph to discover the story of this parchment fragment to better understand and know his father, and perhaps himself.
Twin sisters Agnes and Margaret have returned to Cairo again, following the trail of some particularly ancient and historically valuable documents thought to be stored in the geniza (attic room for documents) at the Ben Ezra Synagogue, also rumored to hold the Ezra Scroll – an ancient scroll thought to be an original translation of a book in the bible. These ladies are well-travelled, knowledgeable, well-known and generous: their hope to bring the contents of the geniza to Cambridge for study.
Lastly (or firstly) is Ali, an orphaned water carrier, living with his uncle’s family and contributing to the hardscrabble existence of the family. Spotted amongst a crowd that had gathered in the wake of a small, smoky fire, Ali was tasked with delivering a message to the synagogue. The leader, Shemarya the Pious then requests his help in a series of messages passed to and fro, until the last one: when he is asked to become the night watchman in return for housing and pay.
That last note, stained with Ali’s blood is the piece sent to Joseph at his father’s behest, the note that sets the story, the al Raqb name, and the never-ending questions that surround the existence (or not) of the famed scroll. Through Joseph’s search for information and to answer the unanswered questions about his father, the search for the mysterious man who’s name and telephone number (not in service) appeared on the card enclosed in his package, his relocation to Cairo, acclimating to the climate, sights, smells and changes where the modern looms over the ancient, and streets twist and turn in ways unimagined. Lukas winds the three narratives together to give moments in each time that are uniquely emotional and informative, yet each perspective reaches both forward and back to connect place and people in ways that they never could have imagined. Most intriguing, beyond the atmospheric feel of each narrative, is the growth and self-awareness, often surprising, that comes to Joseph: settling with his own identity, his desires to discover his father and hear one last story, and even the questions still left after a vodka fueled dance with a scroll….
It’s a story that manages to imbue that sense of a search that is older than time, yet still has a tangible presence in the now: where tangible pieces of parchment and paper tell the stories of the people and events of the day, allowing a new generation to find their own story in the mix.
Title: The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
Author: Michael David Lukas
Genre: Historic Elements, Literary Fiction /Family Saga, Setting: Egypt
Published by: Spiegal & Grau
Published on: 13 March, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 7 Hours: 3 minutes
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In this spellbinding novel, a young man journeys from California to Cairo to unravel centuries-old family secrets.
Joseph, a literature student at Berkeley, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. One day, a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, pulling him into a mesmerizing adventure to uncover the tangled history that binds the two sides of his family. For generations, the men of the al-Raqb family have served as watchmen of the storied Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary--perhaps magical--Ezra Scroll. The story of Joseph's family is entwined with that of the British twin sisters Agnes and Margaret, who in 1897 depart their hallowed Cambridge halls on a mission to rescue sacred texts that have begun to disappear from the synagogue.
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a moving page-turner of a novel from acclaimed storyteller Michael David Lukas. This tightly woven multigenerational tale illuminates the tensions that have torn communities apart and the unlikely forces--potent magic, forbidden love--that boldly attempt to bridge that divide.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
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