Espionage, love, and power play upon the shifting sands of wartime Cairo
CAIRO, EGYPT 1941. As the Second World War rages, the city known as “Paris on the Nile” plays host to an international set who seem more interested in polo matches and swanky nightclubs than the Germans’ unrelenting advance across North Africa. Meanwhile, as refugees, soldiers, and spies stream into the city, the Nazis conspire with the emerging Muslim Brotherhood to fuel the Egyptian people’s seething resentment against their British overlords.
Ambitious American journalist Mickey Connolly has come to Cairo to report on the true state of the war. Facing expulsion by the British for not playing by their rules, he accepts a deal from the U.S. embassy that allows him to remain in the country. His covert mission: to infiltrate the city’s thriving Jewish community and locate a refugee nuclear scientist who could be key to America’s new weapons program. But Mickey is not the only one looking for the elusive scientist. A Nazi spy is also desperate to find him—and the race is on. Into this mix an enigmatic young woman appears, a refugee herself. Her fate becomes intertwined with Mickey’s, giving rise to a story of passion, entangled commitments, and half-truths.
Deftly blending the romantic noir of the classic film Casablanca with a riveting, suspenseful narrative and vivid historical detail, City of the Sun offers a stunning portrayal of a time and place that was not only pivotal for the war, but also sowed much of the turbulence in today’s Middle East.
Heliopolis, known in ancient Egypt as the City of the Sun, but now a Cairo suburb, provides the vivid setting for Maio's debut, a romantic thriller set during the early years of WWII. Gen. Erwin Rommel's forces threaten Egypt from without, while the growing Muslim Brotherhood threatens the strife-torn country from within. A vacillating young King Farouk and a domineering British presence combine to govern uneasily. Into this roiling mix come American freelance reporter Mickey Connolly and Jewish refugee Maya Levi, who continually cross paths. American ambassador Alexander Kirk and spymaster Bill "Wild Bill" Donovan recruit Connolly to help them locate German refugee physicist Erik Blumenthal, who may be trying to get to Palestine. German spy Heinrich Kesner also seeks Blumenthal. The many historical figures lend authenticity, but it is Connolly and Levi's romantic entanglement that drives this satisfying exploration of a key time in western and Middle Eastern relations.
I couldn't read this in one sitting, though I wanted to. It was very difficult, in that the atrocities that were coming to the people in Egypt, the things that happened to those who fled to Egypt while all things were still possible - I knew what was coming, and it was very hard to read the story knowing what was about to occur.
It is a wonderful book, it reminded me how lucky I am living in this day, rather than during that period of such hate and fear.
I'm going to miss Mickey and Maya for a while - they've been in my thoughts for a week now, and it's hard to let them go.
Do read this book - it's well worth your time!