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Cairo: City of Sand (Topographics) [Paperback]

Maria Golia
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 May 2004 Topographics
Cairo is a 1,400-year-old metropolis whose streets are inscribed with sagas, a place where the pressures of life test people's equanimity to the very limit. Virtually surrounded by desert, sixteen million Cairenes cling to the Nile and each other, proximities that colour and shape lives. Packed with incident and anecdote "Cairo: City of Sand" describes the city's given circumstances and people's attitudes of response. Apart from a brisk historical overview, this book focuses on the present moment of one of the world's most illustrious and irreducible cities. Cairo steps inside the interactions between Cairenes, examining the roles of family, tradition and bureaucracy in everyday life. The book explores Cairo's relationship with its 'others', from the French and British occupations to modern influences like tourism and consumerism. "Cairo" also discusses characteristic styles of communication, and linguistic memes, including slang, grandiloquence, curses and jokes. Cairo exists by virtue of these interactions, synergies of necessity, creativity and the presence or absence of power. "Cairo: City of Sand" reveals a peerless balancing act, and transmits the city's overriding message: the breadth of the human capacity for loss, astonishment and delight.

Product details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (7 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861891873
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861891877
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,341,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'a lucid exploration of the city... Golia [offers] ... an intimate and serpentine tour' -- Fortean Times

'a magnificent, multidimensional, eloquent and, above all, intelligent portrait of one of the world's most enigmatic places.' -- Sunday Times, June 2004

About the Author

Maria Golia writes fiction and non-fiction. She's lived in Rome, Paris and Fort Worth, Texas, and is a long-time resident of Cairo.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
AS a long term resident of Egypt I found parts of the book rather subjective and full of sweeping statements. You either love ot hate Cairo and I love it and the Egyptians. They are the kindest, friendliest people I have ever encountered.The author should check her statistics as the amount of visitors from all over the world (except America) is higher than her figures. On the whole, a slight disappointment!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading if you intend staying in Cairo 26 Jan 2005
By A Customer
If you're taking a package holiday to Cairo, buy a guide book. If however you are going there to work or stay for a longer period then this book is essential reading to help you understand what you are letting yourself in for.
It is in the form of five essays looking at living conditions and attitudes, a brief historical overview, the city's relationships it's 'significant others' from foreign occupiers to western influences, linguistics and family and community.
It is an quite an academic study, and with a 'clarity index' that tops 40 in places it is not the easiest read, but it is very enlightening and utterly fascinating.
I wish I'd found this book before I went to Cairo (to work for a short time) because then I would have gone armed with a better understanding of the ways of the city and its people. This would have made my stay so much more enjoyable than it was.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to the psyche of Cairenes 2 Mar 2005
By Ahmed Moustafa - Published on
I grow up in Cairo. I was suprised how the author learned all of that information that she put in the book. The book provides information that one cannot know unless he/she lives long enough with the Cairenes. The book is very interesting. It descibes many aspects of social life in Cairo. The book discusses details about events, such as marriage, Islam, dating, etc. An early, interesting chapter discusses a brief introduction to the history of Cairo.
I think that this book is for a reader who wanna know some information about the behavior and beliefs of Cairnes. The book is easy-to-read and non-academic.
This book may not be very informative for someone who just get information about traveling in Cairo.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, informative overview of Cairo 17 Jun 2008
By Reader - Published on
This is a lovely and highly informative book. Maria Golia's prose is very readable and equally delightful, her knowledge of Cairo, its people and its history is comprehensive. She loves the city. She doesn't patronize it.

Minor corrections, to an otherwise very accurate book, are on

Page 35, the name of the Egyptian actor Adel IMAM is given as Adel IMAN, twice.

Page 85, the words for 'cemeteries' (plural) and 'dust' (single) in colloquial Egyptian dialect are 'TOE-rub' (the stress on the first syllable) and 'tor-AAb' (the stress is on the second), respectively. It's tempting to argue that they derive from the same three-letter semetic root, but as they stand, they are pronounced differently.

Finally, I want to point out that there is a number of short "Letters from Cairo" (published in 'The New Internationalist') by, and an NPR interview (from early 2003) with M Golia available on the web. All highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cairo I Knew and Loved 28 May 2011
By A. McNamara - Published on
I lived in Cairo, Egypt for three years in the early 1990s...and since then in Jordan, where I found this book on sale in a local shop. I didn't know the author and didn't expect anything special. Reading this book was a kind of revelation - it's the first time I've recognized the Cairo I knew and loved described with such affection, honesty and authenticity. In hindsight from the events of Jan - Feb 2011, Golia made many prescient observations and predictions. Her book and its understanding of how Cairo works because of Cairenes and their insistence on hanging in there together reminds me of the beautiful film by Yusef Chahin - "Cairo Illuminated by Her People" - which was received with much embarassment and criticism among well-heeled Egyptians because it showed some of the poorest and most neglected parts of the city without apology. What they missed is the enormous love with which people and neighborhoods were shot by the film maker and their solidarity which illluminates the film. Same can be said for Golia's book. I looked up her more recent articles from Cairo - printed in The New Internationalist and its website....worth reading. This goes on my "precious books" shelf. Highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book! 2 April 2010
By Becky Czlapinski - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am a very fussy reader. I ordered several books about Egyptian history in preparation for a trip to Cairo. I made it about half way through Amitav Gosh's In an Antique Land with interested starts and long lapses between readings until I gave up. I looked through Traveling Through Egypt from 450 BC to the Twentieth Century, an interesting collection of short excerpts of travel writing across gender, time and culture; however the print was too small and the excerpts too choppy to really grab me and pull me in. I was desperate to find a book which would capture a sense of Cairo as a place.

I was saved by Maria Golia and her exquisitely written book Cairo: City of Sand. From the first paragraph which describes an apocalyptic scene which turns out to be a sandstorm to the last paragraph which praises the enduring quality of all great cities, especially Cairo.

Reading along with Golia allows one to peer into corners of the city known only to native Cairenes from a women's day at a spa, to ordering a MacFalafel at an Egyptian MacDonalds, to attempting to cross a busy street in deafening traffic so close that it brushes one's clothing as it passes, to rooftop gardens and livestock pens, and to a wedding celebration. Through Golia's pen one can hear the cacophony of Cairo, smell the myriad aromas of a host of ethic cuisines, see the dingy squatters settlement and the Mamluk mosque, and feel the scorching blast of a sandstorm. The book is organized in an interesting way beginning with a chapter called "Vanishing Point" which explores daily life in Cairo by looking at diminishing resources such as housing and water as well as growth in population and pollution. The next chapter, "Artifice and Edifice," examines Cairene's history through buildings from its days as a tent encampment through the modern age and its satellite communities. The chapter titled "Guests" explores Cairo's relationship with its visitors from Napoleonic French to Saudi princes who behave badly and the impact of these guests on Cairene culture. The love of language and relationship building is featured in "Listening" and "Ensemble" probes the mazag - the cultural melange that is Cairo.

The treasure of intimate glimpses into this city of 17 million is only surpassed by Golia's gift of language. Golia manages to capture the complexities of Cairo through the juxtaposition of images: "Bats gorge on Nile mosquitoes, which are languorous and menacing, an airbourne version of the Portuguese men o'war" (43). She uses metaphors to capture the reader's attention and to create humor: "Blackouts are lapses in the municipal attention span" ( 39). Using vivid imagery and lyrical language Golia brings Cairo alive.

I must say that prior to reading this book, my feelings about going to Cairo were an blend of 80% anxiety with 20% excited anticipation. Now that I have vicariously been to Cairo, I now feel mostly excited anticipation.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book 16 Oct 2007
By J. F. Ogara - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I learned more from reading this book, over a recent visit, than from living in Cairo for five years and then visiting over a period of twenty. While Max Rodenbeck and others have written decent histories of the city, this is a truly amazing work -- both history and remarkably detailed and with rich philosophical insights not only about the thinking of latter day Cairenes but even about the motivations of the Western tourists who visit Egypt. Golia's writing is funny, her style sweeping, and her conclusions inevitably sensible. Even the photos are good. Buy this book!
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