The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
In this spellbinding novel, a young man journeys from California to Cairo to unravel centuries-old family secrets.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.Praise for The Last Watchman of Old Cairo"A beautiful, richly textured novel, ambitious and delicately crafted, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is both a coming-of-age story and a family history, a wide-ranging book about fathers and sons, religion, magic, love, and the essence of storytelling. This book is a joy."--Rabih Alameddine, author of the National Book Award finalist An Unnecessary Woman

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo Details

TitleThe Last Watchman of Old Cairo
Author
ReleaseMar 13th, 2018
PublisherSpiegel & Grau
ISBN-139780399181160
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Northern Africa, Egypt, Cultural, Africa

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The Last Watchman of Old Cairo Review

  • Carol
    January 1, 1970
    Last Watchman of Cairo tells its story via three loosely related threads and timelines. In contemporaneous America, the Muslim Egyptian father of Joseph – the last watchman referenced in the title -- has died, and he has had a friend deliver to Joseph a keepsake without explanation. Joseph, raised exclusively by his Jewish Egyptian (by birth) mother in the US, had a cordial relationship with his father, at least until his father learned Joseph is gay. They didn’t have a falling out, but had comm Last Watchman of Cairo tells its story via three loosely related threads and timelines. In contemporaneous America, the Muslim Egyptian father of Joseph – the last watchman referenced in the title -- has died, and he has had a friend deliver to Joseph a keepsake without explanation. Joseph, raised exclusively by his Jewish Egyptian (by birth) mother in the US, had a cordial relationship with his father, at least until his father learned Joseph is gay. They didn’t have a falling out, but had communicated only by occasional phone call for several years prior to his dad’s demise. Nonetheless, Joseph heads to Egypt with the ostensible goal of looking up a friend of his dad’s and obtaining more information regarding the keepsake. Alternating chapters also tell the story of twin late-middle-aged very British women scholars in Egypt in approximately 1897 seeking to transport a significant collection of ostensibly important historical Jewish documents to Cambridge, and, finally, the story that takes place in approximately 1022 A.D. – the story of the original watchman of the Ibn Ezra Synagogue, Ali ibn al-Marwani, an ancestor of Joseph’s.As is often the case with multiple timeline stories, one story is far more interesting and successful than the other or others. In this case, the ancient tale of Ali is captivating and Ali is an engaging protagonist. The descriptions of Cairo during his time are fascinating. One can feel the heat, the dust, the neighborhoods, and visualize the Synagogue in detail. His dialogue and his story, and that of the characters that interact with him, comes across largely authentic. On the other hand, with respect to the twin sisters, comments attributed to them regarding the lack of good tea in Cairo, and references to the documents as “ours” and the importance of removing the document set to Cambridge in order to preserve them from thieving locals was sufficiently off-putting, even for the times, that I hurried through chapters devoted to their adventure with increasing speed as the book progressed. The side story regarding Dr. Schechter and his youthful assistant, for example, was a waste of time and detracted from this portion of the story.And Joseph? He was neither engaging nor believable. When he finally learns the truth of his parents’ relationship via decades-old handwritten letters they exchanged, preserved by his father – a moment that in many another novel would have had great emotional impact – the reader feels nothing because Joseph feels nothing. The descriptions of present-day Cairo in his section lack any energy or flavor for one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Hence, since his is the framing story and Cairo is nigh unto missing from his story’s telling, it’s difficult for a reader to be fully engaged in the work, as a whole. So, in the end, this novel is partly successful and adequately written. I found it ultimately disappointing, but it may well appeal to other readers seeking historical fiction written by a Western author and set in Cairo.Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for providing an ecopy of this novel.
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  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    RTC
  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    If I am not for myself who will be for me?
  • Bandit
    January 1, 1970
    Time for some armchair traveling. This time not only geographically, but temporally, with this lovely work of historical fiction revolving (via three interconnected timelines) around a legendary Torah scroll. Back in the day when Egyptians might have been somewhat more tolerant, there was a thriving Jewish community there, eventually forced to flee the country during the foreign cleansing of 1956. There was a magnificent synagogue and watched over by generations of a Muslim family. Now the last Time for some armchair traveling. This time not only geographically, but temporally, with this lovely work of historical fiction revolving (via three interconnected timelines) around a legendary Torah scroll. Back in the day when Egyptians might have been somewhat more tolerant, there was a thriving Jewish community there, eventually forced to flee the country during the foreign cleansing of 1956. There was a magnificent synagogue and watched over by generations of a Muslim family. Now the last of that watchman dynasty, an American born to a Jewish mother, a young man culturally and religiously ambivalent, to uncover the mysteries of the sacred texts. This was great, actually. I wasn't familiar with the author, merely intrigued by the plot, but now having read this, I'd be very interested to read his other book. There's something irresistible in a well researched story (albeit one with some fictional accoutrements) where the author's passion for his subject comes across so strongly, in this case via the protagonist, who in the end in his own way becomes a watchman/protector in his own right. All three narratives worked well individually and met together in a cohesive plot, the characters were well developed and engaging, the descriptions very vivid (the author has actually lived locally during the turmoil of 2000) and while it may not present a sort of place you'd want to actually visit, from the safety of your favorite reading corner it's a great trip and well worth the time. I learned a few things and was thoroughly entertained throughout. Very enjoyable read. Thanks Netgalley.
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    Joseph, like many other literary sons, only really learns who his father is after his death. A few weeks after his father dies, Joseph receives a package with a letter written in an archaic form of Arabic that turns out to document his family’s long history of serving as watchmen for the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo. The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, by Michael David Lukas, moves back and forth in time from the first watchman, to the discovery of the Cairo Genizah, to Joseph’s attempts to find out Joseph, like many other literary sons, only really learns who his father is after his death. A few weeks after his father dies, Joseph receives a package with a letter written in an archaic form of Arabic that turns out to document his family’s long history of serving as watchmen for the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo. The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, by Michael David Lukas, moves back and forth in time from the first watchman, to the discovery of the Cairo Genizah, to Joseph’s attempts to find out about his father’s life...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I would actually rate this book closer to a 3.5. I enjoyed how the story covered three different time periods related to interaction with the Ezra scroll. Characters were well developed to the point that you could imagine their behaviors and interactions. Some areas of the story took you down a path that felt important but then were wrapped up quickly and not really resolved. One big positive was the ending for the current day storyline. It was manag I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I would actually rate this book closer to a 3.5. I enjoyed how the story covered three different time periods related to interaction with the Ezra scroll. Characters were well developed to the point that you could imagine their behaviors and interactions. Some areas of the story took you down a path that felt important but then were wrapped up quickly and not really resolved. One big positive was the ending for the current day storyline. It was managed well and left you with a true impact of the importance and commitment of the bloodline of the watchman. I would recommend this book to others.
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  • Annette
    January 1, 1970
    This book interweaves two present stories of Joseph and two sisters, with one past story of Ali – Joseph’s ancestor.As the story builds up, it is interesting. But as soon as it reaches its peak, it starts falling apart very fast.Joseph is a literature student at Berkley and a son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. After the death of his father, he receives a scrap of paper. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the scroll. One day, on a nudge, he decides to take a semester in Cairo and to se This book interweaves two present stories of Joseph and two sisters, with one past story of Ali – Joseph’s ancestor.As the story builds up, it is interesting. But as soon as it reaches its peak, it starts falling apart very fast.Joseph is a literature student at Berkley and a son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. After the death of his father, he receives a scrap of paper. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the scroll. One day, on a nudge, he decides to take a semester in Cairo and to search for the scroll’s meaning.His story collides with the British twin sisters, both widowed, and left with comfortable heritage after his father. They are on a mission to rescue sacred texts. The deeper their story gets, the more trivial it sounds. At the same time, Joseph story is intertwined with his ancestor. Ali, a Muslim orphan, gets a job as the first watchman of the synagogue, guarding the Torah kept locked away in an ark. He doesn’t understand its meaning or secrecy. He falls in love with a woman, who is out of his rank. When he meets a magician, he falls for his magic and talisman, which is supposed to connect him with the woman of his desire. At this point, the story started falling apart for me completely. Especially the magic and the talisman pushed me away from this book. I wasn’t even able to finish reading it.@FB: Best Historical Fiction
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  • Julie Barnard
    January 1, 1970
    Unfortunately this doesn’t publish until next year, but it.’s definitely worth adding to your TBR list. Well-written book about Jews and Muslims in Cairo.
  • Lori
    January 1, 1970
    "The Last Watchman of Old Cairo" was a captivating read. It follows a family who are the caretakers for a temple in Cairo!
  • B.T. Mienoré
    January 1, 1970
    This is just a sweet novel, with a Judaica and historical angle that I found compelling enough that I finished this in a day. At the center of the book is the ancient Ibn Ezra synagogue in Cairo, and we get three stories that revolve around this building. First and second, the narrator Joseph traces his family's connections to the synagogue, which stretch over generations back to an ancestor story. Third, we have the story of twin sisters who, with help of scholar Solomon Schechter, rescue the t This is just a sweet novel, with a Judaica and historical angle that I found compelling enough that I finished this in a day. At the center of the book is the ancient Ibn Ezra synagogue in Cairo, and we get three stories that revolve around this building. First and second, the narrator Joseph traces his family's connections to the synagogue, which stretch over generations back to an ancestor story. Third, we have the story of twin sisters who, with help of scholar Solomon Schechter, rescue the treasures of Ibn Ezra. Just beautiful!
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  • Jackie Wisherd
    January 1, 1970
    The book was most enjoyable to read. The author knew his subject well and wrote with great passion. People who enjoy reading about multi-cultural stories will like this book. It is the al-Raqb family history of the men through thousands of years of being the watchmen for the Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo.
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    A sweet story, told in three timelines. Joseph is the son of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother from Cairo. Raised by his mother in America, Joseph had an affectionate but distant relationship with his father, who remained in Egypt. One day, after his father’s death, a mysterious package draws Joseph back to Cairo. There he walks the streets of his ancestors and visits the synagogue that his family has served for the last thousand years. I enjoyed the dreamlike quality of the story, as the narr A sweet story, told in three timelines. Joseph is the son of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother from Cairo. Raised by his mother in America, Joseph had an affectionate but distant relationship with his father, who remained in Egypt. One day, after his father’s death, a mysterious package draws Joseph back to Cairo. There he walks the streets of his ancestors and visits the synagogue that his family has served for the last thousand years. I enjoyed the dreamlike quality of the story, as the narrative switched from Ali, the first watchman of the synagogue, to the late nineteen century, to modern times.
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