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Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher

Sunset Oasis (original 2007; edition 2009)

by Bahaa Taher, Humphrey Davies (Translator)

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585204,058 (3.83)7
Title:Sunset Oasis
Authors:Bahaa Taher
Other authors:Humphrey Davies (Translator)
Info:Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. (2009), Perfect Paperback, 311 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, novel, egyptian

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Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (2007)



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Egyptian police offer Mahmoud Abd El Zahir is sent to administer the restive oasis community of Siwa in the late 1890s. He smells a rat, knowing that his English overlords have been suspicious of his role in the major uprising in 1881-82 led by Colonel Arabi or Urabi Pasha against the English and the Khedive who had acceded to it.

That uprising is described later in the novel. Essentially, a sickening mismatch of military power left the rebels in disarray. Many of the bravest, far-seeing and generous-hearted people of Eqypt were mown down, while many others were morally mangled afterwards, as they betrayed each other to save their own lives. On the other hand, the servile flourished. The foundations for 20th century Egypt were being laid. Mahmoud is one of those mangled - the uprising left him hating himself for denying the cause. He feels dead.

Remarkably, he is married to a spirited Irishwoman, Catherine, who has appalled her peers by taking an Egyptian husband. A passionate Irish nationalist, she is also a classical scholar fascinated by the story of Alexander the Great, and the mystery surrounding his sepulchre; she wonders if it might have been moved to the Siwa oasis, and itches to inspect local relics. She also nurses her own emotional wounds from a failed former marriage. Relations are complicated further by the arrival of her sister, the saintly, frail beauty Fiona, who had once seemed destined to marry Catherine's own former partner.

With its Berber population, Siwa regards even Egyptian Arabs as colonists, never mind the English. Its population have a murderous hatred toward all outsiders who impose such heavy taxes. However, they are themselves bitterly factionalised among themselves.

For most of the novel Mahmoud manoeuvres between the different players in Siwa - half-heartedly, since he has little will to live. Catherine wants to revive him, and their relationship, and also yearns to explore her scholarly interests, her poetic sensitivity to the desert, and she is keen for friendship with locals; but it is she who jars most heavily with the local culture and its brutal restrictions on women.

The theme of deadness is played out from many angles, and has appeared in the author's other literary work. Perhaps that is not surprising in someone who lived through decades of dictatorship in his homeland. ( )
  Notesmusings | May 25, 2013 |
Egypt, the 1890s and a multi-racial couple head off to an oasis because of his appointment as governor, a poisoned chalice of a posting, not least because the previous 2 incumbents ended up dead. She is a blue-stocking, egyptologist, on the hunt for the tomb of Alexander the Great. Her sickly "saintly" sister Fiona, the long-ago loser of her former lover to her sibling, the resulting marriage being less than fairy tale, visits for a health cure.

Enjoyable multi-layered story-telling, from multiple points of view. Some characters, such as Fiona, are less well drawn. Heavily signposted ending, though it doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment.

Recommended. ( )
  celerydog | Jan 20, 2012 |
Life in an oasis c1890.

The two aspects of this book that I most enjoyed were the fascinating account of travelling across the desert, complete with a sand storm/tornado and the interesting insight into an intercultural marriage from the point of view of an Egyptian man.
Unfortunately though, the book overall didn't really grab me.

Having disgraced himself in the eyes of the Egyptian heierachy, Mahmood is relegated to the position of District Commissioner of the isolated Siwa Oasis. He travels there with his Irish wife, Catherine, who is fascinated by the antiquities of the area that date back to the Romans, Greeks and, her particular interest, Alexander the Great.
Mahmood and his wife are not welcome however, not surprisingly, as he is required to collect excessive amounts of tax from the residents of the oasis, in the form of olive oil and dates, that will be transported back to Cairo. This makes it difficult for Catherine to travel to the ancient sites she wishes to visit and her determination to do so causes further animositiy between themselves and the locals.
Add to this the infighting between the Easterners and the Westerners within the oasis community and various characters who are out purely for their own gains.

While I found a lot of this book interesting - the local customs and beliefs, the descriptions of the area, the mechanics of the Agwad (ruling body of the oasis) - overall it was a bit dry. The characters didn't really grab me and I wasn't driven to turn the next page.
A good read for devoted fans of "Global" literature, but otherwise not a 'must-have'. ( )
  DubaiReader | Mar 30, 2010 |
This is an interesting story of two people's lives in colonial Egypt at the end of the 19th Century. Mahmoud is the District Governor, an Egyptian not as subservient to the British regime as, perhaps, might be expected. Mahmoud is also the husband of Catherine, an Irish woman with a keen interest in Alexander the great and his presence in Egypt. The story relates the interests, events and troubles of their lives as they struggle to adapt to the remote oasis settlement of Siwa., After a slow start, I really enjoyed this novel. ( )
  thejohnsmith | Jan 21, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bahaa Taherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Unn Gyda NæssTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When Mahmoud Abd El Zahir is sent to govern the remote Egyptian oasis of Siwah in the late 1890s, he knows the danger he faces - two of his predecessors were murdered. But having been accused of disloyalty to the current regime and its British overlords, he has little choice.… (more)

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