A Land Like You by Tobie Nathan
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Translator: Joyce Zonana
Cairo 1925, Haret al-Yahud, the old Jewish Quarter. Esther, a beautiful young woman believed to be possessed by demons, longs to give birth after seven blissful years of marriage. Her husband, blind since childhood, does not object when, in her effort to conceive, she participates in Muslim zar rituals. Zohar, the novel’s narrator, comes into the world, but because his mother’s breasts are dry, he is nursed by a Muslim peasant—also believed to be possessed—who has just given birth to a girl, Masreya. Suckled at the same breasts and united by a rabbi’s amulet, the milk-twins will be consumed by a passionate, earth-shaking love.
Part fantastical fable, part realistic history, A Land Like You draws on ethno-psychiatrist Tobie Nathan’s deep knowledge of North African folk beliefs to create a glittering tapestry in which spirit possession and religious mysticism exist side by side with sober facts about the British occupation of Egypt and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Officers’ Movement. Historical figures such as Gamel Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and King Farouk mingle with Nathan’s fictional characters in this riveting and revealing tale of an Egypt caught between tradition and modernity, multiculturalism and nationalism, oppression and freedom.
Year first published: 2020