A Woman of Cairo
Set in Cairo in 1919-1953, this book paints a portrait of Egypt in the days when it was a British Protectorate—a colony in all but name. The author was a chief foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail and lived in Cairo, where he met Nasser, Sadat, and King Farouk, all of whom appear in the book. However, the lives of Egyptians and their struggle for independence take a backseat to the glittering excesses of the British elite.
At the centre of the narrative is Mark Holt, barrister and diplomat’s son, who leads an action-packed life, to say the least. In between escorting ingénues to midnight picnics at the Pyramids, bedding any number of insatiable women of various hues, and asking his Nubian manservant to top up his ever-present champagne glass, Mark battles assassins, Nazis, and corrupt officials. He even saves a helpless female from a madman in a wheelchair. (He sagely advises her to flee by running down a flight of stairs!)
The title and very feminine cover of this book are misleading, as this is pure male fantasy—James Bond with a Merchant Ivory backdrop. The characters are predictably one-dimensional. Barber is at his best when describing the beauty and mystery of the Egypt he knew and loved so well. However, the exoticism of setting is not enough to sustain a novel of 672 pages when the characters are so thinly drawn and the plot is just one unlikely contrivance after another. Those who love quality historical fiction are advised to steer clear.