The Last Watchman of Old Cairo

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo

by Michael David Lukas

Overview: Joseph, a literature student at Berkeley, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. One day, a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, pulling him into a mesmerizing adventure to uncover the tangled history that binds the two sides of his family. For generations, the men of the al-Raqb family have served as watchmen of the storied Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary—perhaps magical—Ezra Scroll. The story of Joseph’s family is entwined with that of the British twin sisters Agnes and Margaret, who in 1897 depart their hallowed Cambridge halls on a mission to rescue sacred texts that have begun to disappear from the synagogue.

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a moving page-turner of a novel from acclaimed storyteller Michael David Lukas. This tightly woven multigenerational tale illuminates the tensions that have torn communities apart and the unlikely forces—potent magic, forbidden love—that boldly attempt to bridge that divide.

Judy Stanton (04/14/19): At the last Jewish Film Festival, the movie "From Cairo to the Cloud" told the story about a genizah in a synagogue in Cairo. I had never heard of the word genizah, but with the movie and this book, I now see the amazing amount of information that historians have had access to thanks to th"storage" area in the synagogue. The book intermixes stories from old, colonial and modern Egypt -- which at times proved a little difficult to follow. The story is based on the Muslim family whose job for generations was to watch over the synagogue and preserve documents, above all, the perfect Ezra scroll. The plot line is moved along by Joseph, a Berkley graduate student whose mother is an Egyptian born Jew and father is a Muslim from the family of "watchers." He returns to Egypt after his father dies to learn more about his family. The book portrays a time when Jews and Muslims lived side-by-side in harmony. It is a compelling work historical fiction, that touches on issues of family relationships, homosexuality, courage and sacrifice, and coming of age.
Rating: ****

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