Monday, June 24, 2013

The Mistress of Nothing

A friend recommended this one - and I had just tried to get in to a book about Egypt, failed, and then tried this one.  This is a really quick, interesting read.  It brought memories of when I was in Egypt, and when I actually got to stay in the Shepheard's Hotel in downtown Cairo.  A magical few weeks another lifetime ago.

This is a book based loosely on a true story, about an English maid (Sally) that travels with her mistress to Egypt (Lady Duff).  Lady Duff left several letters describing her trips to Egypt behind and they are widely celebrated.  Much is known about her, some of her bondsman(??) Omar, but very little is known about Sally.   Lady Duff made several trips to Egypt for health reasons, since she was declining quickly in England. 

The prose is elegant, this is a fast read, and it paints a totally different aspect of Egypt in the 19th century from a female, privileged position counterbalanced by that of her body servant.  Sally does this unthinkable in this novel, she dares to fall in love with the married Egyptian that Lady Duff hires to act as their guide in all things Egypt.  At the time, in Egyptian culture, men could have more than one wife, and eventually, Sally finds herself pregnant.  When giving birth, Lady Duff discovers the deception and blames Sally for her happiness, for her birth, and for her transgressions.  Sally truly becomes the "Mistress of Nothing" as she loses all rights and Lady Duff forces her from her home, and to give up her child to Omar's other family.  It is a story of love and survival, and just not the usual kind of story (or ending for that matter).  Well worth a read.

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