Blythe Spirits

In December 1958 the Egyptian magazine “The Spirit World” published the account of one of their seances. Among the spirits who appeared were King Faisal of Iraq, King Abdullah of Jordan and the former Prime Minister of Egypt and Nationalist hero, Saad Zaghloul. The answers that they give seem to chime a little too conveniently…

Get out of Sudan!

Last night brought the wonderful news that the Sudanese author Bushra al-Fadil has won the Caine Prize for one of the stories included in The Book of Khartoum, which came out last year. In honour of him I am going to write a short blog about a pamphlet that I picked up in Cairo a…

“The harmonium was kindly played by Mrs Smith”

A few years ago I picked up unusual and almost unique set of volumes. It was a more-or-less full run of “Sudan Church Notes” from 1907-1914.  It was a monthly publication designed to inform people about the activities of the Anglican Church in Sudan.  Needless to say this was a specialist interest journal and not…

A Soviet Geography of 1950s Cairo

In 1956, the theatre critic Mohammed Mandur went on a cultural mission to Romania with several other Egyptian writers. Expecting to find an iron curtain and secret police everywhere he was pleasantly surprised to see a thriving state and welcoming people. In so far as their struggles were the same: against the old colonial powers,…

The Flower of the East

I have recently got back from a trip to Cairo, during which I picked up a few curious publications. One of them is this edition of Zahrat al-Sharq (The Flower of the East). On the cover are “Four soldiers who represent the Indian forces who have joined the forces of the Empire in the war…

The Affliction of Young and Old: Drinking and Playing Dice

In 1911 Youssef al-Khouri Boutros Yazbek had a problem and that problem was vice. He was so worried about it that he decided to write and publish a play, which he called “The Afflication of Young and Old: Drinking and Playing Dice”. In his introduction he explains his motivations. “I have been thinking about our…

A Literary Treasure Hunt

A few months ago, I was going through some boxes of books that belonged to Robert Allason Furness, thanks to his daughter Mary Furness. He had first moved to Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century to work in the colonial civil service and ended up as Professor of English at Cairo University. He…

Being kicked out of Khartoum

Nothing is as romantic as a lost cause, this is well known. I would add that, in a lost cause, it is the peripheries that are the most romantic. A few years ago, in entirely uninteresting circumstances, I came into possession of number of letters from a failed Congolese rebel fighter, now holed up in Khartoum, to…

Easter Special: The Coming of the Christ

This is a short Easter post about a book published in Khartoum about the End Times. It was published by an Armenian Christian called Boghos Enfiedgian in 1971 and is mostly a statement of what will happen when the end of days comes. The book itself is separated into three sections. What God has done in…

Pierre Cachia: 1921-2017

This morning brought news of 2 bombings in Tanta and Alexandria. The night before an obituary of Pierre Cachia appeared in my inbox. I don’t know what to say about the terrible events in Egypt. It is very hard to say anything now. I do have some thoughts to write about Pierre Cachia, the great scholar of Arabic literature….

Who Killed President Kennedy?

This winter in Sufi Bookshop in Zamalek I picked up the October 1964 issue of al-Katib magazine. It took it off the shelf, in part because of its elegant cover and also because it is an interesting 1960s political and cultural journal. This edition contains articles on “The battle between left and right in Islam”, “The dictatorship…

True Crime: A Murder in 19th Century Cairo

This post is inspired by the series called “History, Tell your Story”, based in Alexandria. One volume of their work has been published in Maher Sherif’s Yadawia series of handmade books This group of Egyptian scholars are particularly interested in tracing the stories locked in old books and archives both in Egypt and across the…