Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Review: THE LAST WATCHMAN OF OLD CAIRO by Michael David Lukas.

Thanks for the free book, Penguin Random House. 


Joseph, a literature student at Berkeley, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. One day, a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, pulling him into a mesmerizing adventure to uncover the tangled history that binds the two sides of his family. For generations, the men of the al-Raqb family have served as watchmen of the storied Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary--perhaps magical--Ezra Scroll. The story of Joseph's family is entwined with that of the British twin sisters Agnes and Margaret, who in 1897 depart their hallowed Cambridge halls on a mission to rescue sacred texts that have begun to disappear from the synagogue.

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a moving page-turner of a novel from acclaimed storyteller Michael David Lukas. This tightly woven multigenerational tale illuminates the tensions that have torn communities apart and the unlikely forces--potent magic, forbidden love--that boldly attempt to bridge that divide.


The Last Watchman of Old Cairo tells three stories which are somehow related but independent as well. The first story line we come across is the one following Ali, the first watchman of the synagoge who is also an ancestor of another main charcater who leads his own storyline. Joseph, son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, takes off on a contemporary time in Berkeley, when a box is sent to his door and he decides to follow the traces back to Cairo to figure out the roots of his family. The third story follows British Agnes and Margaret, whose goal is to bring some sacred Jewish documents safe to Cambridge. 

Due to the storylines being intertwined and constantly jumping from one to another with each new chapter, reading can get frustrating, as some characters make it really easy to get ahold of your attention while some others not so much. 

From my point of view, Ali's story had something that could actually make me forget about the ink on the paper and feel part of the story as well. It was very interesting, hearing all about Cairo and his job as a watchman, as well as his own personal experiences. 

However, Ali is not the character I am going to remember. That one is going to be Joseph. It might not even be the character I remember, but definitely the way he talks about his one summer at Cairo when he was young and the next one when he dealt with other emotional issues, such as his sexuality and how it changed his bond with the father he barely spent time with. I felt really into the setting descriptions and it even made me want to visit.

About the Bitish twins… I am not a fan of theirs. Their plot was interesting, yes, but far less that the other two, and having to face it every two chapters could make it difficult for the reader to keep track of the other two storylines which were actually pretty amazing. 

There is no doubt that the best thing about this novel is that it is set in Cairo, making it different and very interesting for me to read. I think it is the first novel I have ever come across set in Cairo, so it really did intrigue me right from the first time I heard about the novel and it is definitely the main reason as to why I picked it up. 

In conclusion, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a well-written and well-documented story that can make you feel closer to history and religion as well as the places described while finding out about characters you can really care for throughout the novel. I find it to be a very surprising and entertaining read, although I did not feel the most comfortable with the storylines distribution, as it fell flat sometimes. 


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