Cairo in books

Get inspired for your next trip by reading some emblematic books set in Cairo. Discover authors that have shown light on this unique city through their stories.

Cairo in books

In the realm of literature, few cities can claim to have as much narrative gravitas as Cairo. This sprawling city, often referred to as the ‘Mother of the World’, serves as the backdrop for a multitude of stories that capture its vibrant culture, historic grandeur, and the unyielding spirit of its people.

A visit to Cairo is akin to stepping into the pages of a living history book. The city’s rich past is reflected in its monumental structures, from the awe-inspiring Pyramids of Giza standing tall against the desert landscape, to the enigmatic Sphinx, and the treasure-filled Egyptian Museum. Each landmark tells a tale of ancient civilizations that have left an indelible mark on the world. These historic sites, immortalized in countless works of fiction, continue to draw millions of tourists each year.

Beyond its historical allure, Cairo is a city teeming with life and buzzing with energy. Its bustling souks, like the famous Khan El Khalili, are a sensory overload, filled with colorful goods, aromatic spices, and the melodic cadence of haggling voices. The Nile River, another iconic feature of the city, provides a serene counterpoint to Cairo’s chaotic charm. Whether it’s through a leisurely felucca ride or a lively dinner cruise, the river offers unique perspectives of Cairo, just as it does in many narratives set in this unforgettable city.

Discover Cairo in books

“Palace Walk” by Naguib Mahfouz

Set in Cairo during the end of World War I, “Palace Walk” is the first book in Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy. It introduces us to the Al-Jawad family, particularly the tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad and his gentle wife Amina. The story delves deep into the family’s personal struggles, set against the backdrop of a changing Egypt. It highlights the clash between traditional values and the lure of modernity, depicting the daily life and transformations in Cairo.

“The Yacoubian Building” by Alaa Al Aswany

This novel is set in the Yacoubian Building, a once-luxurious but now decaying building in downtown Cairo. It weaves together the lives of its diverse inhabitants, from wealthy aristocrats to struggling laborers. The book provides a vivid portrait of Egyptian society, discussing political corruption, extremism, and the disparity between wealth and poverty in Cairo.

“Cairo Modern” by Naguib Mahfouz

Set in the 1930s, this novel explores the socio-economic struggles of young Egyptians in Cairo. It follows the life of Mahgub Abd al-Da’im, a poor student, who is desperate to rise above his station. His journey through the complexities of societal expectations and personal ambitions paints a vivid picture of Cairo’s modernizing society.

“Karnak Café” by Naguib Mahfouz

Set in a popular Cairo café, this novel explores the lives of a group of friends who regularly meet at the café. Their stories reveal the impact of political unrest and government oppression in Egypt during the 1960s. It’s a gripping tale of friendship, love, and betrayal in the heart of Cairo.

“The Map of Love” by Ahdaf Soueif

This novel intertwines two love stories set a century apart. The first is in contemporary Cairo, where an American woman discovers her great-grandmother’s passionate letters about her life in Egypt, including a romance with an Egyptian nationalist. The second story unfolds through these letters, transporting readers to Cairo at the turn of the 20th century, highlighting the city’s historical and cultural richness.

“Beer in the Snooker Club” by Waguih Ghali

Set in the 1950s, this novel follows the life of Ram, a young man from a wealthy Cairene family. Ram’s journey through the upper-class society of Cairo, with its snooker clubs and bars, contrasts sharply with the political changes and social upheavals of the time. It’s a poignant exploration of youth, love, and politics in a rapidly changing Cairo.

“Zaat” by Sonallah Ibrahim

This novel tells the story of Zaat, a middle-class Egyptian woman, against the backdrop of political events in Egypt from the 1950s to the 1980s. Through Zaat’s personal and family life, the reader experiences the impact of these tumultuous decades on the people of Cairo. It combines narrative with actual newspaper clippings, blending fiction and reality.

“The Golden Chariot” by Salwa Bakr

Set in a women’s prison in Cairo, this novel explores the lives of female prisoners from various backgrounds. The story focuses on their struggles, relationships, and the social injustices they face. It’s a poignant commentary on gender and class issues in Egyptian society.

“Taxi” by Khaled Al Khamissi

This collection of 58 fictional monologues offers a unique perspective on Cairo through the eyes of its taxi drivers. Each story reveals different aspects of the city, from political opinions to daily struggles, providing a mosaic of contemporary Cairo’s social and political landscape.

“The Book of Cairo: A City in Short Fiction” (edited by Raph Cormack)

A collection of short stories by various contemporary Egyptian writers, this book offers a kaleidoscopic view of Cairo. Each story captures a different facet of the city’s life, from its bustling streets to the intimate lives of its residents, presenting a diverse and dynamic portrait of Cairo.

Each of these books provides a unique window into the life and soul of Cairo, showcasing its complexity, history, and the ever-evolving nature of its society.

See our section Travel with books to get more inspirations.

Cairo in books