This graceful, astute, fin-de-siäcle tale, first published in France in 1996, of a boisterous Egyptian photographer and the young artist he marries—who becomes, before his eyes, the most famous photographer of her day—marks an auspicious US debut for journalist SolÇ. It's 1891 when Milo Touta—on a beach near Alexandria for his summer vacation—catches a glimpse of lovely Dora as she's painting, her feet daringly bare in the sand, and he falls in love. Captivated by his giddy mix of exuberance and gentleness, Dora falls for him too, although she cares little for his profession. Marriage brings them both happiness, and Dora, by watching Milo at work in his Cairo studio, gains an insider's view of photography that quickly causes her to rethink her dismissal of it. She patiently learns the craft, both behind the camera and in the darkroom. Working side by side, conceiving and raising three daughters, the couple's blissful state continues—even as Dora starts being widely known in her own right as a portrait photographer. Amid swirling currents of Egyptian nationalism and British empire-building, they prosper enormously through the combination of Dora's unerring ability to find the essence of any visage presenting itself in her viewfinder and Milo's charm and good business sense. Only when Dora is called to photograph the Egyptian head of state, and later his British "handler," and Milo realizes that his wife has truly replaced him as photographer, does he lash out in despair. Overnight, Dora leaves him and their daughters, going on an assignment to faraway Khartoum, which the British have recently retaken in a bloody assault. There, she continues to enhance her reputation as an artist and as a woman ahead of her time, even though her joy is back in Cairo with the man who won her heart. Packed with period detail and fine touches of emotion, a strikingly smooth and heartwarming story from first to last.
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