I love reading books set in Egypt because this country is highly exotic with an incredible history. The largest Arab country in the world, Egypt, has many exciting writers and books set in Egypt are almost always a joy to read, especially if you like reading about politics.
In this list of books set in Egypt, I tried to choose various books that would appeal to many readers. I hope you’ll find a book to your liking and enjoy it a lot.
Books Set in Egypt
Clouds over Alexandria – Ibrahim Abdel Meguid
In the city of Alexandria, five students encounter political struggle and the casual cruelty of a harsh government, but ultimately love and resilience.
In the 1970s, once-cosmopolitan Alexandria was at the forefront of the clash between Nasser’s socialist-era principles and the burgeoning fundamentalist movement. Five idealistic students find themselves caught up in this tangled web, as their leftist activism makes them a target both from government surveillance and the Islamist groups seeking to curtail the city’s social life. The group of friends’ participation in the explosive ‘bread riots’ is swiftly followed by the crushing experience of prison, and the course of their young lives changes irrevocably.
This story of love, aspiration for social change, disillusionment, and frustration will resonate today in the wake of current political upheavals—an interesting one among books set in Egypt.
Sunset Oasis – Bahaa Taher
As the 19th century draws to a close, the politically disgraced Mahmoud Abd El Zahir takes up his post as District Commissioner of the remote and dangerous Egyptian oasis of Siwa, knowing he has no choice. The hostile, warring natives are no surprise – but little did he expect to fall in love, his Irish wife to alienate the entire community, or a local beauty to prove a fatal ally. As the gulf between occupier and occupied, husband and wife, dreams and reality widens, tensions reach boiling point—winner of the first Arabic Booker Prize among books set in Egypt.
The Cairo Trilogy – Najib Mahfuz
One of the most popular books set in Egypt. Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent epic trilogy of colonial Egypt appears here in one volume for the first time.
The Nobel Prize-winning writer’s masterwork is the engrossing story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence.
Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons – the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal.
Al-Sayyid Ahmad’s rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s.
Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the ageing patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.
Throughout the trilogy, the family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humour and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller. A must-read among books set in Egypt.
Ancient Evenings – Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer’s dazzlingly rich, deeply evocative novel of ancient Egypt breathes life into the figures of a lost era: the eighteenth-dynasty Pharaoh Rameses and his wife, Queen Nefertiti; Menenhetet, their creature, lover, and victim; and the gods and mortals that surround them in intimate and telepathic communion. Mailer’s reincarnated protagonist is carried through the exquisite gardens of the royal harem, along the majestic flow of the Nile, and into the terrifying clash of battle. An extraordinary work of inventiveness, Ancient Evenings lives on in the mind long after the last page has been turned. for the fans of Mailer among books set in Egypt.
A Woman of Cairo – Noel Barber
Son and daughter of diplomats in Cairo, the gentle Serena Pasha and Mark Holt are good-looking and privileged, growing up in a magical world of champagne breakfasts and midnight picnics at the pyramids. Their lives entwined since childhood, they grow ever closer as adults. Yet Serena’s hand has been promised not to Mark, but to his brother, Greg.
However, as the Second World War speeds closer to Cairo, a terrible accident gives these young lovers a second chance – and with this chance comes terrible dangers. Egypt is threatened not only by the German army but by nationalist forces within Cairo determined to end the British occupation at any cost. The country torn apart, and with enemies on all sides, Mark and Serena’s love is tested to the limit. An enjoyable one among books set in Egypt.
The Tent – Miral al Tahawy
The Tent features a host of women characters whose lives are subject to the will of a single, often absent, patriarch and his brutal, foul-mouthed mother. Told through the eyes of a young girl, the lives of the Bedouin and peasant women unfold, revealing the tragedy of the sonless mother, the young girl’s relationship with her distant father, and a foreign woman who is well-meaning but ultimately motivated by self-interest. A powerful one among books set in Egypt.
Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller – Nadia Wassef
In 2002, three young women with no business degrees, no formal training, and nothing to lose founded a fiercely independent bookstore. At the time, nothing like Diwan existed in Cairo. Culture was languishing under government mismanagement, and books were considered a luxury, not a necessity. Over the next decade, these three women would contend with censors, chauvinists, critics, one another and many people who said they would never succeed in establishing Diwan as Cairo’s leading bookstore.
Frank, fresh and very funny, Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller is a portrait of a country hurtling toward a revolution, a feminist rallying cry, and an unapologetic crash course in running a business under the law of entropy. Above all, it is a celebration of the power of words to bring us home. A good one among books set in Egypt.
The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell
One of the most popular books set in Egypt. Alexandria, Egypt. Trams, palm trees and watermelon stalls lie honey-bathed in sunlight; in darkened bedrooms, sweaty lovers unfurl. But in a world trembling on the brink of the Second World War, passion and death are inextricable.
When Darley, a penniless schoolteacher, begins an affair with Justine – a married Egyptian woman of unparalleled glamour – their partners, Melissa and Nessim, are sucked into a whirlpool of jealousy and violence.
One of the twentieth-century’s greatest romances, Lawrence Durrell’s scandalous ‘investigation of modern love’ set the world alight in 1957. Rich in political and sexual intrigue, his epic masterpiece burns just as brightly today. Introduced by Jan Morris, this omnibus edition collects all four novels together in all their glory among books set in Egypt.
Sipping from the Nile – Jean Naggar
A memoir among books set in Egypt. Born into a prominent, sophisticated Jewish family who spend time in Europe and live in the Middle East, author Jean Naggar’s coming of age memoir tells the story of her protected youth in an exotic multicultural milieu. To Naggar her childhood seemed a magical time that would never come to an end. But in 1956, Egyptian President Nasser’s nationalizing of the Suez Canal set in motion events that would change her life forever.
An enchanted way of life suddenly ended by multinational hostilities, her close-knit extended family is soon scattered far and wide. Naggar’s own family moves to London where she finishes her schooling and is swept into adulthood and the challenge of new horizons in America. Speaking for a different wave of immigrants whose Sephardic origins highlight the American Jewish story through an unfamiliar lens, Naggar traces her personal journey through lost worlds and difficult transitions, exotic locales and strong family values. An award-winning finalist in the Autobiography/Memoirs category of the 2012 International Book Awards among books set in Egypt, the story resonates for all in this poignant exploration of the innocence of childhood in a world breaking apart.
The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany
An interesting one among books set in Egypt. This exceptional Egyptian novel – as mesmerising as it is controversial – caused an unprecedented stir when it was first published in Arabic.
Welcome to the Yacoubian Building, Cairo: once grand, now dilapidated, and full of stories and passion. Some live in squalor on its rooftop while others inhabit the faded glory of its apartments and offices. Within these walls religious fervour jostles with promiscuity; bribery with bliss; modern life with ancient culture. At ground level, Taha, the doorman’s son, harbours career aspirations and romantic dreams – but when these are dashed by unyielding corruption, hope turns to bitterness, with devastating consequences.
Alaa Al Aswany’s superb novel about Egypt’s many contradictions is at once an impassioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by dishonesty among books set in Egypt.
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Are there any books set in Egypt you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?