SAKKARA by Noel Barber


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Like Barber's Tanamera (1981) and A Farewell to France (1983), this hefty adventure/romance (Egypt, 1919-1953) is chunky with clandestine missions, star-crossed lovers, sexual exotica, and historical star-cameos. The narrator is Englishman Mark Holt, whose likable, champagne-loving father is Britain's ""Egyptian Adviser"" and a longtime Cairo resident. So Mark sees his first heroic action at ten--when he rescues baby Serena, child of Court Adviser Sirry Pasha, from an anti-British mob in 1919. And, though it is always assumed that lovely Serena will marry Mark's handsome, polo-playing brother Greg, the 19-year-old Serena drifts into a night of love with Mark (unhappily married) at Sakkara by the Step Pyramid: a ""heady night. . . I knew that. . . my life would never be the same again."" Over the year, then, two marriages--Serena-and-Greg, Mark-and-Parmi--will erode. Meanwhile, Egypt starts to chafe under British rule; burdened with King Farouk (not unintelligent but screwy), the country is soon boiling with unrest. Then, in the 1930s, Mark learns that the US is all for dumping Farouk in favor of (in this version) moderate ""Free Officers"" like Nasser--but Britain, worried about control of the Canal, would rather hold onto His Obese Majesty, keeping an upper hand while Farouk plays with girls and red limos. During WW II there's a strong pro-German sentiment in high places: Mark is given a DSO assignment to monitor Farouk, fending off German espionage; there'll be a fruitful rendezvous at the bar/brothel owned by a popular singer (once given legal help by Mark); secret German papers are located in a camel's complex digestive apparatus; confrontations ensue with the radical left--such as the Moslem Brotherhood, of which Serena's own brother Aly is a member. And, amid riots, Serena neutralizes Farouk's sinister aide Sadik--leading to a touch-and-go postwar trial. . . before the final clinch. Straight, unpretentious, solidly backgrounded historical-adventure--with likable heroes, detestable villains, and occasional hambones thrown in for that cornball March-of-Time flavor. (""What did you say his name was?/I didn't. But it's Gamal Abdel Nasser."")

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Macmillan