This compendium of Flaubert's notes and letters from his excursion to Egypt is an absolute delight to read. Starting in October 1849 and lasting for about a year, Flaubert and his friend Maxime du Camp toured what are now the major tourist sites of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation as well as contemporary mid-nineteenth-century Egypt - including Cairo, Luxor, and Giza.
In this volume are selected pieces from Flaubert's travel notes, his letters of reassurance to his over-protective mother, and Flaubert's graphic and fantastically open letters to his friend Louis Bouilhet. Aged 28 when he set out on the trip, Flaubert spent his time taking in the "blatant tones that would make any painter fade away" and thinking about "literature: [his] sweet and never-ending obsession." Also included are some of Du Camp's 'journalistic' impressions of the near East, as well as some of his photographs he took (including the first ever photograph of the partly submerged Sphinx).
On his return to France, Flaubert spent the next five years working on what became Madame Bovary, and given the vast importance of that work (Flaubert was the favourite author of Proust, Joyce and Kafka), these travel notes present a fascinating insight into what at the time was his somewhat unfocused mind looking for direction as to what type of novel he should write. Salammbo, the novel that Flaubert published after Madame Bovary and set in the revolt of the mercenaries at Carthage in 133BC, was also framed through his experiences in the near-East.
So if you add up the historical importance to literature, the golden prose of Flaubert, the photographic importance of their journey, and the sheer delight of an un-Westernised Egypt, it is perhaps a book that should be sitting on more book cases than I suspect it currently does.