Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef

Photo courtesy of ShelterBox Book Club

Synopsis from the book cover:

In 2002, three young women with no business degrees, no formal training, and nothing to lose founded a fiercely independent bookstore. At the time, nothing like Diwan existed in Cairo. Culture was languishing under government mismanagement, and books were considered a luxury, not a necessity. Over the next decade, these three women would contend with censors, chauvinists, critics, one another and many people who said they would never succeed in establishing Diwan as Cairo’s leading bookstore.

Frank, fresh and very funny, Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller is a portrait of a country hurtling toward a revolution, a feminist rallying cry, and an unapologetic crash course in running a business under the law of entropy. Above all, it is a celebration of the power of words to bring us home.

Thoughts on the book:

This was my first ShelterBox Book Group read and of three books on offer for the club vote this wasn’t my first choice.

I found the book engaging and like that it is structured in topics rather than chronological order. This reveals the problems with setting up the bookshop and expanding the business in context with other life experiences, allowing the story to unfold throughout the book.

I learned more about the culture of Egypt and the difficulties of three women starting and running a business in a patriarchal society. One of the passages in the book describes how a man wanted to do business with the company but refused to shake Nadia’s hand…

The author, Nadia portrayed herself as an unlikeable person and there is a lot of unnecessary swearing in the book which detracts from the narrative. The way Nadia treated her staff was inconsistent, she admonished and deducted pay for small misdemeanours of untidy book displays whilst letting those thieving from her to get off with paying back what they stole. Was that because the thief was male?

I Loved reading about the conversations between Nadia and her driver, although, sadly they eventually parted ways.

Would I recommend the book?


4 Comments CherryPie on Jan 23rd 2024

4 Responses to “Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef”

  1. lisl says:

    I was interested to read about the Shelter Book Club on Google, Cherie

  2. I came across an article about the Grand Egyptian Museum recently.
    Now I found the missing puzzle here. ;)