Book Review:17 Sheikh Hamza Street, CairoLife on the back of a sleeping crocodile by Avraham Bar-Av (Benata)

Before I do my review, I have to put up this disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for a highly discounted price through Tomoson and the publisher. Any and all opinions expressed in this review are mine and mine alone. I received no financial compensation for this review. Now, on to the review. At the end of the review, I will include a links to Amazon for the paperback and Kindle version.

Book’s synopsis:

The life of a Jewish family in Cairo is dramatically affected by the rise of Arab nationalism

A fascinating drama based on the biographic memoirs of the author, offering invaluable insight into Jewish history, North African Jewry and the history of the Middle East.

The Jewish Bentata family settles in Cairo, Egypt, at the beginning of the 20th century. After a few decades of leading a respectful bourgeois lifestyle suited for middle-class westerners in the Orient, the illusion of belonging begins to crack. As Rommel’s tanks bear down on the gates of Al Alamein, Arab nationalism raises its head.

In 1948, as the Israeli war of independence breaks out, the harassment reaches its peak: Hosni, a charming yet ruthless criminal, takes advantage of the family’s political weakness. He forces himself on Suzy, the youngest daughter, threatening to harm her family if she refuses him. When he discovers that she has betrayed him by marrying an English soldier and escaping to London, he turns to her older sister, Sophie. Hosni collects evidence about Sophie’s husband Zionist activity and threatens to hand it over to the authorities. While Henri is already arrested and sent to an internment camp in the desert, Sophie is given an offer that can’t be refused. She may either buy his incriminating documents one by one or buy the whole lot of them together. Hosni is not picky about the payment method: “Payment can take the form of money or gold or jewelry. If you’d rather not part with your belongings, an intimate encounter is also an option.”

The family’s life in Egypt has hit a dead end. In the face of catastrophe, family members hurry to flee from Egypt. One part of the family escapes to Israel, others spread out to find refuge in France, Italy and Australia.

A historical novel depicting the fall of a middle-class Jewish family in Egypt.

Through the life of the Bentata family, the reader is exposed to an unperceivable mixture of East and West that existed for a small historic moment, a vivid kaleidoscope of culture, heritage, color, scent, and flavor. Stage by stage we witness the historical realization of the prophecy given to Avraham, the patriarch of the Jewish nation: “thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs and shall serve the people there who will afflict them… and afterward they will leave.”

An adventure story reveals the roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict and the political situation in the Middle East.

A rare documentation of a surreal, rootless elite that managed to bloom in the fissure between a rotting, corrupt regime and the dying British Empire. Ignoring the domestic and regional shifts that spelled the end of Jewish existence in Egypt, they build their homes on the back of a dormant crocodile. As it woke up, the walls of existence began to crack.

My review:

I found this book fascinating. I have never thought of Egypt of having a Jewish population (which is bad on my part), so this peek into what it was like to be Jewish and in Egypt was very interesting.

I did find the book to lag in certain parts, mainly Moshe’s involvement with the Communists and his affair with his friends wife.

The whole Hosni/Suzy storyline was awful but it needed to be told. Hosni wasn’t a nice guy and I like that the author did nothing to hide that fact.

I did think (until the end of the book) that this was a work of fiction. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be nonfiction!!! I was very impressed by that.

Would I reccomend this to family and friends? Yes

Would I read it again? Yes

Here are the Amazon links that I promised:

Kindle (price can and will change)

Paperback

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