A Café on the Nile, by Bartle Bull (1998). Bull artfully chronicles an old-fashioned adventure of espionage and valiant acts starting at Cataract Café on a barge in Cairo and journeying on safari in pre-World War II eastern Africa.
The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street, by Naguib Mahfouz (2001). Originally published in 1956-7, this sweeping saga of a merchant-class family in Cairo spans the first half of the 20th century, from British colonial times to independence and modernization. The Nobel Prize-winning author takes readers both inside homes where Muslim wives and daughters live cloistered lives and outside into streets loud with political demonstrators.
*In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale, by Amitav Ghosh (1993). Indian author Ghosh moved to the Egyptian farming village of Lataifa and became engrossed in the history of an Indian slave in 12th-century Egypt. Through this exploration, Ghosh shares keen insights on ancient Muslim traditions and the modern Egyptian identity.
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus From Old Cairo to the New World, by Lucette Lagnado (2007). Lagnado evokes the cosmopolitan glamour of mid-century Cairo as she remembers itas a young Egyptian Jewish girl whose father consorted with British officers and Egyptian royalty at French cafés instead of spending time at home with his family. Forced to flee their beloved homeland in 1963 under the Nasser regime, Lagnado's family escapes to Paris and ultimately winds up in Brooklynarmed with 26 suitcases filled with trinkets from their former lavish lifestyle hidden in sealed marmalade tins.
Midaq Alley, by Naguib Mahfouz (1947). This superb slice-of-life tale from Egyptian Nobel laureate Mahfouz is set in the seedy back alleys of 1940s Cairo, where the lives of an eccentric cast of characters intertwine, including a coffeehouse owner, an orphan drawn into prostitution, and a man who earns his livelihood disfiguring people to help them become more successful beggars.
The Yacoubian Building: A Novel, by Alaa Al Aswany (2002). A vision of faded Art Deco glory, the Yacoubian Building is home to a fascinating mélange of modern Cairenes living in downtown's smog. The bestselling novel's taboo-breaking sexual frankness, and depiction of religious extremism and political corruption, caused immediate scandal in the Arab world upon publication.