The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a sweeping multi-generational story that interweaves history, the importance of storytelling, and the necessity of belief. In honor of the paperback release, Penguin sent me a copy of The Last Watchman of Old Cairo to review for you all.
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.
TW: Self harm
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a transfixing story. It sweeps you up with the lush atmosphere, the richly layered historical time periods, and these character’s unbelievable story. I became so immersed, I barely took any notes! That’s the sign of an intriguing book. Throughout the story there’s all this tension, not only because our main character is struggling trying to figure out his relationship to his father and his heritage, but also because there are two other story lines.
I was fascinated by the way Lukas intertwines the different histories. Each chapter tells a different piece of the story. And as the novel progresses, the tension in all the stories rise. We begin wondering how our two intrepid adventurers will fare, how our sweet watchman learns about his new position, and how the main character, Joseph, makes sense of his relationship to his father.
The Last Watchman of Cairo as a whole is a story about characters on a road to discovery. They find themselves in far away places and unexpected history. Little do they know it, but their lives are being folded into the larger story. And that’s how most of our lives are. This book is part adventure, part love story, and part mystery. It’s not straight forward, but it captures your heart anyway.
What I loved about this story is that in some ways, part of the joys we – as readers experience – are similar to the characters. By reading this story, we too acknowledge the importance of stories, of memories, of traditions, and, maybe too, of forgiveness. The Last Watchman of Cairo examines the ways stories evolve and shape reality, dreams, and everything in between. Check out The Last Watchman of Old Cairo on Goodreads.
About the Author
Michael David Lukas is the author of the internationally bestselling novel The Oracle of Stamboul, which was a finalist for the California Book Award, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize and has been published in fifteen languages. He has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a student at the American University of Cairo, and a night-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv. A graduate of Brown University, he has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He works in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley and lives in Oakland, California.