Famed songbird dies under suspicious circumstances, leaving her daughter to search the past for clues.
Egyptian author Khashoggi (Mirage, 1996, etc.), now New York City–based, spins the engrossing tale of Karima, who, born the daughter of a chauffeur (for an English cotton pasha in Alexandria), becomes a revered singer in the Middle East. From childhood, Karima and Charles, the pasha’s only child, have loved each other. But when Charles comes of age, his parents refuse to let him marry Karima. The two meet secretly at night, however, in risky defiance of Karima’s brother Omar, a spy and flimflam man with a gambling problem. When Charles, after a bar fight, dies in a car crash, Karima discovers she’s pregnant. Omar beats her, but, seeing a chance to profit, arranges a marriage for her with Munir, an older businessman. When her daughter, Nadia, is born, the makeshift family turns real, and Karima’s musical gift blossoms into a professional career. But a theater fire during Egypt’s political upheaval of 1952 spells tragedy. Toddler Nadia is lost in the melee and eventually picked up by a French-Egyptian couple, Celine and her doctor husband Tarik. Too desperate for a child to alert the authorities, they take her to France and name her Gabrielle. Eventually, Tarik traces Gaby’s parentage but, for Celine’s sake, keeps it a secret. Karima, still pining for her lost daughter, continues performing to great acclaim even after Munir’s death from a heart attack. A powerful general, Hamza, befriends her, while her brother continues to leech money from her. Gabrielle, now a promising journalist, returns to Paris, where Celine is dying of cancer. Tarik can finally release the secret, and Gaby and Karima have a bittersweet reunion. Just as the two women are growing closer, and Gaby’s career is taking off, Karima dies, allegedly of an alcohol/barbiturate overdose. Since her mother was a strict teetotaler, Gaby smells a rat.
Although the rat’s identity is a given, Khashoggi overcomes potentially melodramatic material with deft, fast-paced storytelling and sympathetic characters. A winner.