"Like Mahfouz’s Palace Walk trilogy, Bassiouney’s single-volume trilogy unfolds the intimate connection between sexual politics and political life at large through an engrossing panorama across a series of interlocking stories."—David Damrosch, Harvard University
"The novel raises questions about loyalty and treachery, victory and defeat, mortality and immortality, and all are within the framework of a quest for elusive truth."—Nazek Fahmy, Al-Ahram
"A masterful, multi-generational epic….Bassiouney brings the past to life through diverse characters, including and especially women."—Melanie Magidow, translator of Mortal Designs
This monumental family saga offers a vivid portrait of Egypt’s Mamluk period, one that is at both sweeping in scope and intimate in detail. Set in medieval Cairo, the novel centers on three generations of Egyptians, foreign-born Mamluks, and their descendants as their trials and victories mirror those of their turbulent country. The first volume, “Sons of the People”, introduces us to Zaynab, the daughter of a middle-class merchant in Cairo who catches the eye of the powerful Mamluk amir Muhammad. After they marry, Zaynab is transported to the foreign world of Mamluk politics and wealth where she must navigate the complicated machinations of various rulers and raise their four children. Their oldest son becomes an architect and embarks upon the monumental task of building a grand mosque with Sultan Hasan as a symbol of the Mamluks rise to power. In the second volume “The Judge of Qus”, Bassiouney tells the story of Amr ibn Ahmad ibn Abd al-Karim, a wise and compassionate judge of Islamic law whose refusal to bend to the demands of the Mamluk rulers ultimately leads to Amr’s downfall. The final volume, “Events of Nights,” weaves together testimonies from three characters, each with narrow and differing perspectives on the novel’s events, subtly calling the readers’ attention to the unstable nature of historical fiction.
Filled with compelling drama, ruthless ambition, and tragic love, Bassiouney’s masterful trilogy brings the Mamluk’s rich cultural and architectural heritage to life through the eyes of one family.
Reem Bassiouney is professor of applied linguistics at American University in Cairo. Her novel, The Pistachio Seller, was awarded the Sawiris Prize for Best Novel of 2010, and the translation of that novel by Osman Nusairi was the 2009 winner of the King Fahd Prize.
Roger Allen is the Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor Emeritus of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics, School of Arts and Sciences, and professor emeritus of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He received the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from Sheikh Hamad for Translation and International Understanding.
7 x 10, 608 pages, 6 color illustrations