Egypt is a place that has always been on my travel bucket list. I would love to see the pyramids of Giza and visit the Valley of the Kings.
Until I can actually make it to Egypt one day, I will enjoy reading about it instead! That’s the great thing about books; they can transport you there!
One of the most popular genres for books set in Egypt is historical fiction novels that go into great detail about the history of Egypt, the Middle East, and the many empires that have come and gone over the centuries.
Besides historical fiction, there are also many contemporary novels filled with action, adventure, and romance.
So, if you are ready to be transported to Egypt, look no further than these books.
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Novels and Fiction Books Set in Egypt
Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie’s most exotic murder mystery, with its many twists and turns and unravellings is a marvel to read.
The tranquility of a luxury cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything . . . until she lost her life.
Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet under the searing heat of the Egyptian sun, nothing is ever quite what it seems.
Translated by: Anthony Calderbank
The Tent is a beautifully written, powerful, and disturbing novel, featuring a host of women characters whose lives are subject to the will of a single, often absent, patriarch and his brutal, foul-mouthed mother.
Told through the eyes of a young girl, the lives of the Bedouin and peasant women unfold, revealing the tragedy of the sonless mother and the intolerable heaviness of existence.
Set against trackless deserts and star-filled night skies, the story tells of the young girl’s relationship with her distant father and a foreign woman who is well-meaning but ultimately motivated by self-interest.
It provides an intimate glimpse inside the women’s quarters and chronicles their pastimes and preoccupations, their stories, and their songs.
An extraordinary cross-cultural love story set across Egypt, England, and the United States.
At either end of the twentieth century, two women fall in love with men outside their familiar worlds. In 1901, Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, leaves England for Egypt, where, far from the comfort of the British colony, she finds herself enraptured by the real Egypt and in love with Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi.
Nearly a hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist, and descendant of Anna and Sharif has fallen in love with Omar al-Ghamrawi, a gifted and difficult Egyptian-American conductor with his own passionate politics.
When Isabel, in an attempt to discover the truth behind her heritage, reenacts Anna’s excursion to Egypt, the story of her great-grandparents unravels before her, revealing startling parallels for her own life.
As with his earlier works, Mohamed El-Bisatie’s novel is set in the Egyptian countryside, about which he writes with such understanding. Episodic in form, it deals with a family―Zaghloul the layabout father, Sakeena the long-suffering wife, and two young boys.
The central theme of the book is hunger: the hunger of not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from, and the universal hunger for sex and love.
Sakeena’s life revolves around trying to provide her family with the necessary daily loaves of bread that will stave off starvation.
Labor-shy Zaghloul works on and off at one of the village’s cafés but prefers to spend his time listening in on conversations about subjects such as politics, which he would have liked to know more about, if only he had been an educated man.
Translated by: William Maynard Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny
Palace Walk is the first novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork.
The novels of the Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence.
Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons—the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal.
The family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two world wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries.
Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
Translated by: William Maynard Hutchins, Lorne M. Kenny, and Olive E. Kenny
Palace of Desire is the second novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy. In Palace of Desire, his rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s.
Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz
Translated by: William Maynard Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan
Sugar Street is the final novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork.
Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight.
Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali
Set amidst the turbulence of 1950s Cairo, Beer in the Snooker Club is the story of Ram Bey, an over-educated, under-ambitious young Egyptian struggling to find out where he fits in.
Ram’s favorite haunt is the fashionable Cairo Snooker Club, whose members strive to emulate English gentility; but his best friends are young intellectuals who devour the works of Sartre and engage in dangerous revolutionary activities to support Egyptian independence.
By turns biting and comic, Beer in the Snooker Club — the first and only book by Waguih Ghali — became a cult classic when it was first published and remains a timeless portrait of a loveable rogue coming of age in turbulent times.
The Girl with Braided Hair by Rasha Adly
Translated by: Sarah Enany
The lives of two women living centuries apart are connected by an enigmatic painting in this mesmerizing debut based on historical events.
Art historian, Yasmine, is restoring an unsigned portrait of a strikingly beautiful girl from the Napoleonic Era when she discovers that the artist has embedded a lock of hair into the painting, something highly unusual. The mysterious painting came into the museum’s possession without record, and Yasmine becomes consumed by the secret concealed within this captivating work.
Meanwhile, at the close of the French Campaign in Egypt, sixteen-year-old Zeinab, the daughter of a prominent sheikh, is drawn into French high society when Napoleon himself requests her presence. Enamored by the foreign customs of the Europeans, she finds herself on a dangerous path, one that may ostracize her from her family and culture.
The Time-Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets by Khairy Shalaby
Translated by: Michael Cooperson
Ibn Shalaby, like many Egyptians, is looking for a job. Yet, unlike most of his fellow citizens, he is prone to sudden dislocations in time. Armed with his trusty briefcase and his Islamic-calendar wristwatch, he bounces uncontrollably through Egypt’s rich and varied past, with occasional return visits to the 1990s.
Through his wild and whimsical adventures, he meets, befriends, and falls out with sultans, poets, and an assortment of celebrities-from Naguib Mahfouz to the founder of the city of Cairo. Khairy Shalaby’s nimble storytelling brings this witty odyssey to life.
Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer
Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel–an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers await in the shadows…
Egypt, 1926. Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won’t be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie’s best efforts at meddling with her love life, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane’s plans to remain cool and indifferent become ancient history in the company of Mr. Redvers, a roguish banker she can’t quite figure out.
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas
In this spellbinding novel, a young man journeys from California to Cairo to unravel centuries-old family secrets.
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.
In the Spider’s Room by Muhammed Abdelnabi
Translated by: Jonathan Wright
Hani was out for an evening stroll near Cairo’s Tahrir Square when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. An informant had identified him, and he was thrown into the back of a police truck. There began a seven-month nightmare as he was swept up, along with fifty other men, in the infamous Queen Boat affair that targeted Egypt’s gay community.
Finally free, but traumatized into speechlessness, Hani writes down the events of his life—his first sexual desires, his relationship with his mother, his marriage of convenience, and his passion for Abdel Aziz, the only man he ever truly loved.
The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz
Translated by: Elisabeth Jaquette
Set against the backdrop of a failed political uprising, The Queue is a chilling debut that evokes Orwellian dystopia, Kafkaesque surrealism, and a very real vision of life after the Arab Spring.
In a surreal, but familiar vision of modern-day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising.
Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Bestselling novelist Margaret George brings to life the glittering kingdom of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, in this lush, sweeping, and richly detailed saga.
Told in Cleopatra’s own voice, The Memoirs of Cleopatra is a mesmerizing tale of ambition, passion, and betrayal in the ancient Egyptian world, which begins when the twenty-year-old queen seeks out the most powerful man in the world, Julius Caesar, and does not end until, having survived the assassination of Caesar and the defeat of the second man she loves, Marc Antony, she plots her own death rather than be paraded in triumph through the streets of Rome.
The Open Door by Latifa al-Zayyat
Translated by: Marilyn Booth
February 1946: Cairo is engulfed by demonstrations against the British. Layla’s older brother Mahmud returns, wounded in the clashes, and the events of that fateful day marked a turning point in her life, an awakening to the world around her.
Latifa al-Zayyat’s acclaimed modern classic follows Layla through her sexual and political coming of age. Her rebellious spirit seeks to free itself from the stifling social codes that dictate a young woman’s life, just as Egypt struggles to shake off the yoke of imperialist rule.
Memoirs & Nonfiction Books About Egypt
On the Nile in the Golden Age of Travel by Andrew Humphreys
This book is a thorough and engaging history of cruising the world’s longest river, it’s part regular non-fiction and part coffee table book.
Using period photography, and colorful vintage posters and advertising material, this book tells the story of the people, the places, and the boats, from pioneering Nile travelers like Amelia Edwards and Lucie Duff Gordon, through to famed later passengers, such as Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and, of course, Agatha Christie, whose staging of Death on the Nile only added to the allure.
Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt’s Roaring ’20s by Raphael Cormack
A well-researched account of the nightlife in Cairo during this time period. One of the world’s most multicultural cities, twentieth-century Cairo was a magnet for the ambitious and talented.
Raphael Cormack unveils the rich histories of independent, enterprising women like vaudeville star Rose al-Youssef (who launched one of Cairo’s most important newspapers); nightclub singer Mounira al-Mahdiyya (the first woman to lead an Egyptian theater company), and her great rival, Oum Kalthoum (still venerated for her soulful lyrics); and other fabulous female stars of the interwar period, a time marked by excess and unheard-of freedom of expression.
Buffeted by crosswinds of colonialism and nationalism, conservatism and liberalism, “religious” and “secular” values, patriarchy, and feminism, this new generation of celebrities offered a new vision for women in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed by Ahdaf Soueif
From the best-selling author of The Map of Love, a bracing firsthand account of the Egyptian revolution.
When throngs of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Ahdaf Soueif—author, journalist, lifelong progressive—was among them. Now, in this deeply personal work, Soueif summons her storytelling talents to trace her city’s—and nation’s—ongoing transformation.
Best Books Set in Egypt
These are some of the best books set in Egypt.
Have you read any of these books set in Egypt? Do you have any favorite books set in Egypt that I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
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