As young adult readers living in Cairo, you can imagine the struggles of finding a good book that’s not set someplace in the Western World. Books set in the Middle East have a certain charm to them that is hard to beat. If you’re reading a book, and come across some Arabic word for a famous dessert or a type of food that seems a bit too familiar; you feel a bit of positive representation. Want to read a few books set in Egypt specifically? Here are some, written by worldwide famous authors.
1) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)
Paulo Coelho is one of the most complex authors who famously writes in philosophy. When I Realized that this book extensively mentioned Egypt amid its plot; it was a pleasant surprise. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, a shepherd boy travels from Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure near the Pyramids. He meets several different people on his way that join him on his quest. But what I thought made it more interesting was that no one knows what the treasure is.
If you’re feeling lost about your ambition or purpose at the moment, and want to read something different to help you connect with your instincts, this book is for you.
2) The Visitors by Sally Beauman (2014)
This is a fiction novel based on the true story of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, who visit Egypt to search for King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of Kings. Isn't it thrilling and captivating to read a true story of real characters mixed with fiction? That's what Beauman gives us in this novel.
She begins her acknowledgment with: "[...] it has a framework and a core that is fictional, but the chapters about Egyptian archaeology .... are as accurate... as historically possible as I have been able to make them.” This reading experience didn’t just send me to Egypt during 1922; it nourished my historical background and views.
3) Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (1937)
How famous can you get with the classic murder mystery pioneer? It’s 1937, and Cairo is considered a marvelous city, rivaling Paris and Venice. A couple is on their honeymoon in Egypt, blissfully unaware that while they are on a peaceful cruise in the Nile, one of them would get shot through the head.
Linnet and Simon’s marriage had a rocky start that left an enemy behind, who is now the prime suspect. Hercule Poirot, our famed detective, eavesdrops on conversations on the cruise and discovers layers and layers to the murder mystery. Agatha herself had incorporated a lot of what she learned on her multiple trips to Egypt in the novel to enrich it.
4) The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (2010)
Here’s a different type of representation that has more humor and adventure. The beloved author of the Percy Jackson series has a fantasy series about Egyptian Mythology, mixing characters from the modern world with ancient pharaohs, gods, and magic.
In the first book of The Kane Chronicles, Carter and Sadie’s father, a famed Egyptologist, tries to reunite his children by planning a trip to the British Museum. Needless to say, the trip ends in a huge explosion, leaving the siblings with a quest to save their father from a mysterious being that was awakened in the museum. A middle-grade book that discusses our culture through the minds of young teens and the quirkiness of side characters that we love as they discover Ancient Egypt in a unique fantasy setting.
5) Death on Tour by Janice Hamrick (2011)
Another murder mystery, Death on Tour, shows that Egypt truly offers a perfect setting for mystery and crime novels. As an Egyptian, seeing a group of tourists next to the Pyramids and Sphinx on the novel's cover is pretty familiar, but what immediately grabbed my attention is the Grim Reaper's figure (which gives an idea of the genre of this novel).
Aside from the uneasiness surrounding the crimes, the author takes the readers on a tour through many places: the Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Abu Simel, Luxor, Karnak, Tutankhamen's tomb, the Valley of Kings, and the River Nile. As a person who never got the chance to visit all these places, this was a very entertaining free visit.
We’ve been accustomed to reading Western pop-culture books and that is making us slowly lose our identity in literature. There’s such a lack in fictional books that discuss every day's normal life for an Egyptian young adult. So, reading about Egyptian or Arab culture in foreign novels gives you that satisfaction in a way. Not to mention the perks of bilingualism!
What are your thoughts? Have you ever read a book with familiar settings and norms to where you live? Was it a positive experience?