Handsomely crafted fiction, set in Egypt during the dark days leading up to WW II. Here, against a deadly mix of...



Handsomely crafted fiction, set in Egypt during the dark days leading up to WW II. Here, against a deadly mix of cultures--the Egyptian, with a mighty past echoing in a chaotic present, and the indolent, arrogant British--Freeman (A Hollywood Education, 1986, etc.) plays out the farcical-to-tragic consequence of an unlikely triangle: a young, mercurial King Farouk; a British High Commissioner, a rock of Empire; and a beautiful woman beguiling both. Twenty-two-year-old Jimmy Peel, the first of several narrators, is assigned to tutor the 15-year-old Farouk, presumably in the classics. But it soon becomes obvious to Jimmy that the British High Commissioner, Sir Malcolm Cheyne, hopes to ""colonize"" Farouk and make him ""one of us."" The prince, cosseted, denied nothing since birth (although ignored by his kingly father), is charming but tunes out anything that doesn't claim his wayward interest. His English-izing starts at a British prep school in 1936 when his father dies, and when the still young Farouk becomes king. Meanwhile, Sir Malcolm, a widower with two daughters, has married the dazzling, adoring Vera, 30 years his junior. Vera then steps forward to narrate her initial days as Lady Cheyne: her careful stepmothering, her official duties, and--bemused and enticed by the unmistakable infatuation of Farouk--her erotic adventure. Eventually, the bond between Sir Malcolm and Farouk (a new kind of father, a new kind of son) frays and breaks, as do treaties and mutual accommodations, while the affair of Farouk and Vera becomes dangerously obvious. Jimmy will barely escape with his life as the Germans advance, while the isolation of the king (with his Axis leanings) uncorks smoldering hatreds toward the English, and Cairo is swept by riots. A stylish, startlingly inventive evocation of a pre-Nasser Egypt, with a stunning cast, all of whom are, in different ways, ultimately trapped by their appetites or wilfulness. A classy, exciting entertainment.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997


Page Count: 272

Publisher: Carroll & Graf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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