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• Friday, March 28th, 2008

Samia Serageldin was born in the early fifties in Cairo, Egypt, the daughter of a wealthy landowner of a renowned Egyptian family. She married at twenty and went to England where she obtained an M.S. Degree in Politics from London’s school of Oriental and African Studies.

She emigrated with her family in 1980 to the U.S.A. and has lived since then in Michigan, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. She has two adult sons who live in two different continents from hers.

Samia Serageldin worked as a professor of French and Arabic language, an interpreter for an international company, a book columnist, a free-lance writer and as a public speaker on current affairs.

The Cairo House is Samia Serageldin’s first novel. It was first published in the USA in 2000, the UK publication followed a few years later in 2004. It’s semi-autobiographical, a way for the author to reconcile the present with the past. The book is about the changes and developments in Egypt during the decades following the 1952 Egyptian revolution.

Gigi the main character in the book relates her day-to-day life during the time of the four presidents who took power after king Faruk. President Naguib, then Nasser, followed by Sadat, and then Mubarak.

She starts her story in the good old days, the belle époque, of an Egyptian privileged wealthy, landowner family who went through hardship after president Nasser sequestrated their lands in the sixties. From then on, life will never be the same again neither for Gigi, her family, nor for Egypt.

Gihan (Gigi), the narrator and main character, is an introverted, complicated and tormented person. She hastily married a man who is a complete stranger to her, saying that “she was tired of waiting for life to begin.” She was young, inexperienced and believed innocently that life started with wedlock.

The expected happened, her married life was a failure. Her second marriage was not a great success either. Like most expatriates, she didn’t feel at home in the USA and she felt out of place in the new Egypt. She seemed to be helplessly lost until the end of the story, seeking a way out of her dilemma.

Despite that, it’s not easy to feel much compassion for Gihan, her character lacks some depth. The events and turmoil surrounding her life are described more elaborately, although some subjects could have been more developed.

The metaphors of the Chameleon for the constant readjustment between the two worlds, the East and the West, and the kaleidoscope for the change in fate, which are mentioned in several parts of the novel are, of essential importance to the author. It conveys what destiny is about. The slightest change in the kaleidoscope, like a small occurrence, can alter the route of one’s life and therefore make a substantial difference to one’s destiny.

The story of Gihan and her clan in The Cairo House reveals Egyptian culture, traditions, politics and unrest amongst the different classes in society under each new regime. The novel starts with a vivid and rich description of Egyptian society of the time, but as the author moves her character to the western world, the images are fading and are no longer of substance.

The Cairo House is an entertaining book to read. Written by an Egyptian who lived the various events that occurred in her country first hand, it’s valuable historically for the important Egyptian period of the first half of the twentieth century and the significant changes that followed whether in politics, culture, way of life or even the country’s infrastructure.

Samia Serageldin, in one of her interviews, says about The Cairo House : “I’ve been often asked why, since The Cairo House draws so heavily from my personal history, I did not simply write a memoir. It is often said that a memoir is fiction in disguise and a novel is fact masquerading as fiction. For me, at least, I could not have written as freely without the fig leaf of fiction…The great satisfaction of being read comes from taking others with you on that fascinating journey.”

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