“A Land Like You” by Tobie Nathan, translated by Joyce Zonana—The Jewish Ghetto of Cairo
Nathan, Tobie. “A Land Like You”, translated by Joyce Zonana, Seagull Press, 2020.
The Jewish Ghetto of Cairo
In “A Land Like You”, writer Tobie Nathan’s Egypt is hot, loving and fearless. We meet men and women, mothers and fathers, child kings and British soldiers, Egyptians, foreigners and stateless people, Jews and Copts.
“A Land Like You” is set in Cairo 1925 in the old Jewish quarter of Haret al-Yahud. Esther is a beautiful young woman who is believed to be possessed by demons. She wants to desperately give birth after seven wonderful years of marriage. Her husband who has been blind since childhood, has no objection to her participating in Muslim demon rituals in her efforts to conceive a child. She finally gives birth to Zohar, the narrator, but because his mother’s breasts are dry, he is nursed by a Muslim peasant who is also believed to also be possessed and who has just given birth to a girl, Masreya. The two infants are suckled at the same breasts and “united by a rabbi’s amulet.”
The story of Zohar and Masreya is a story of forbidden love. They share their goals to reach the highest spheres of Cairo and will not let anything stop them. While this is their story, it is also the story of Egypt and of Cairo as Farouk is ousted in disgrace. We read of the city from the onset of the twentieth century until the crisis of 1952 and all that was part of it …