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In Their Father's Country
by Anne-Marie Drosso
Telegram Books, London, June 2009
ISBN: 978-1846590597, pbk.
Through the eyes of two sisters
This fascinating account of family tales and love affairs set in Cairo, is Anne-Marie Drosso's first novel. Like her book of short stories Cairo Stories (Telegram, 2007), Anne-Marie Drosso sets the narrative in the cosmopolitan milieu of Cairo's Levantine society. With the main focus revolving around scattered pieces of family history and secret love stories revealed little by little by narrator Claire, the beauty of Drosso's novel lies in her capacity to appeal to readers of all ages on an international level.
Sisters Claire and Gabrielle Sahli are the daughters of a Greek father and Italian mother born in Cairo to a prestigious family whose life is played out in the public eye and must be scandal - free. Depicting relationships within the enlarged family, the elder sister Claire's memories offer a colourful insight into Cairene society throughout the 20th Century; from Claire's childhood in the 1920s until her death in the late 1990s. Born into this intellectual Christian family of foreign background, Claire and Gabrielle attend a Catholic school, managed by nuns. Their father, a lawyer at Mixed Courts established in Egypt under the British authority, is several years their mother's senior and dies when both girls are still at school. Following his death, family secrets begin to emerge and both sisters must fight to keep their place in society as they move with their mother to live with their uncle, a prominent Cairene businessman.
With the rise of Egyptian nationalism and Nasser's ascent to power as President of Egypt, the Sahli family tries to hold on to its assets and position within society. Speaking very little Arabic, their Greek and Italian heritage is increasingly perceived as foreign and alien. Gabrielle who qualified as a lawyer at the Mixed Courts is forced to embark on an entirely different career after the Courts are closed down. With limited argumentative skills in Arabic, she is forced to become a teacher, a profession for which she has little passion. Claire's position in an upmarket art gallery, where she is acknowledged as an accomplished art dealer and curator, has become extremely precarious following the gallery's nationalisation. Two years before her retirement, the new governmental management team that took over the gallery decides to send her to work in a small stationery shop in Minya in the hope that she will resign and subsequently lose the right to a retirement pension. However, both sisters manage to adapt in their own ways to these new challenges that come with the change of economic conditions and the rise of Islamism and Arab nationalism.
Drosso's narrative is remarkably well interspersed with political events of 20th Century Egypt and contains a sharp and objective description of the social and political climate in Cairo. In Their Father's Country is enriched by detailed descriptions that encourage the reader's appreciation, employing a number of narrative techniques such as flashbacks in the form of old letters or literary works written by one of the protagonists. Drosso's novel brings its readers a multitude of love stories, deaths, disappointments and social struggles, making it a timeless work of fiction accessible to readers around the world, whether they are familiar with Egyptian history and customs or not.
Born in Cairo, Anne-Marie Drosso left Egypt in her twenties for Canada where she studied and worked in the legal field. After spending a few years in London, she now lives in California and dedicates her time fully to writing. All her works are written in English.