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The Last Watchman of Old Cairo

A Novel
Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini
Length: 7 hrs and 3 mins
Categories: Fiction, Historical
4 out of 5 stars (56 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In this “wonderfully rich” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel, a young man journeys from California to Cairo to unravel centuries-old family secrets.

Winner of the American Library Association's Sophie Brody Award

Winner of the National Jewish Book Award in Fiction

Named one of the 10 best books of the year by the BBC

Longlisted for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Fiction Prize

A Penguin Random House International One World, One Book selection

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. The story of Joseph’s family is entwined with that of the British twin sisters Agnes and Margaret, who in 1897 depart their hallowed Cambridge halls on a mission to rescue sacred texts that have begun to disappear from the synagogue. 

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a moving pause-resister of a novel from acclaimed storyteller Michael David Lukas. This tightly woven multigenerational tale illuminates the tensions that have torn communities apart and the unlikely forces - potent magic, forbidden love - that boldly attempt to bridge that divide. 

"A beautiful, richly textured novel, ambitious and delicately crafted, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is both a coming-of-age story and a family history, a wide-ranging book about fathers and sons, religion, magic, love, and the essence of storytelling. This book is a joy." (Rabih Alameddine, author of the National Book Award finalist An Unnecessary Woman)

“Lyrical, compassionate and illuminating.” (BBC)

"Michael David Lukas has given us an elegiac novel of Cairo - Old Cairo and modern Cairo. Lukas’s greatest flair is in capturing the essence of that beautiful, haunted, shabby, beleaguered yet still utterly sublime Middle Eastern city.” (Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit and The Arrogant Years)

“Brilliant.” (The Jerusalem Post)

©2018 Michael David Lukas (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Evocative... Lukas turns the Egyptian city into a tantalizingly seductive place of mystery.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Fascinating... Blending his fictional creations with real characters... Lukas creates a thoroughly credible mystery [and] an appealing family drama.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Part mystery, part character study, yet historically accurate, this book should appeal to a broad swath of readers.” (Library Journal)

“Lukas’ lyrical novel draws readers into a classic tale of family secrets, forbidden love, and religious rivalry that spans generations.... Parallel stories...intersect at a crucial juncture as family legends unfurl, coalesce, and enlighten.” (Booklist)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

exquitly written

I loved the language. I loved the story.
A very humane treatment of so many modern and ancient situations woven into a very compelling tale.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

losing oneself in time and place.

Fascinating tale but a bit difficult to follow. The author takes the reader from ancient past, to 19th century and to present in no particular order. This is one of a few books that I will listen to again.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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cute but shallow

well written, interesting potential story, great reading performance but kind of disappointing story and at the end unrealistic sentimentalism

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Disorganized Hodge Podge

I so wanted to like this book. It sounded so great - Cairo, a mystery surrounding an ancient Torah scroll, etc. Although the plot sounded good, the execution just didn't work. The attempt to go back and forth between 3 different time periods/characters was jarring and confusing. I think this was because there was little feeling of connection between all of the characters. In the end, a good attempt that fell short.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful