17 Sheikh Hamza Street, Cairo

17 Sheikh Hamza Street, Cairo

The life of a Jewish family in Cairo is dramatically affected by the rise of Arab nationalism

A fascinating drama based on the biographic memoirs of the author, offering invaluable insight into Jewish history, North African Jewry and the history of the Middle East.

The Jewish Bentata family settles in Cairo, Egypt, at the beginning of the 20th century. After a few decades of leading a respectful bourgeois lifestyle suited for middle-class westerners in the Orient, the illusion of belonging begins to crack. As Rommel’s tanks bear down on the gates of Al Alamein, Arab nationalism raises its head.

In 1948, as the Israeli war of independence breaks out, the harassment reaches its peak: Hosni, a charming yet ruthless criminal, takes advantage of the family’s political weakness. He forces himself on Suzy, the youngest daughter, threatening to harm her family if she refuses him. When he discovers that she has betrayed him by marrying an English soldier and escaping to London, he turns to her older sister, Sophie. Hosni collects evidence about Sophie’s husband Zionist activity and threatens to hand it over to the authorities. While Henri is already arrested and sent to an internment camp in the desert, Sophie is given an offer that can’t be refused. She may either buy his incriminating documents one by one or buy the whole lot of them together. Hosni is not picky about the payment method: “Payment can take the form of money or gold or jewellery. If you’d rather not part with your belongings, an intimate encounter is also an option.”

The family’s life in Egypt has hit a dead end. In the face of catastrophe, family members hurry to flee from Egypt. One part of the family escapes to Israel, others spread out to find refuge in France, Italy and Australia.

A historical novel depicting the fall of a middle-class Jewish family in Egypt.

Through the life of the Bentata family, the reader is exposed to an unperceivable mixture of East and West that existed for a small historic moment, a vivid kaleidoscope of culture, heritage, color, scent, and flavor. Stage by stage we witness the historical realisation of the prophecy given to Avraham, the patriarch of the Jewish nation: “thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs and shall serve the people there who will afflict them… and afterwards they will leave.”

An adventure story reveals the roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict and the political situation in the Middle East.

A rare documentation of a surreal, rootless elite that managed to bloom in the fissure between a rotting, corrupt regime and the dying British Empire. Ignoring the domestic and regional shifts that spelled the end of Jewish existence in Egypt, they build their homes on the back of a dormant crocodile. As it woke up, the walls of existence began to crack.

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