The minute you get off the beaten tourist track in Egypt without a guide, you you find yourself in a land that is in equal measure beguiling and frustrating. But you wanted to get a feel of the 'real Egypt,' right?
Sattin's book takes you through byroads and lost trails. His meetings with Egyptians exude charm and a distinctly Egyptian way of investigating. He ponders customs, folklore, religions ancient and modern, strange beliefs, weaving a poetry of discovery between mudbrick villages and monuments known and unknown.
Perhaps you are an independent traveller, waiting on Edfu station for five hours for a train that might not come. Or maybe you are a suntanned holidaymaker, cruising the Nile and experiencing Egypt through more vicarious means. But there probably comes a time when you stow your Fodors or Lonely Planet, and need something a little less serious than E.A. Wallis Budge's definitive guide to Egyptian Mythology. You retire from the heat to your mosquito net or air-conditioned berth. And, at such times, Sattin is like the eccentric but trusted friend you never knew you had.
This is among the best travel writing. Informative yet relatively easy on a near sunstroked brain. He displays a genuine interest in people to be envied and emulated. He tells you personal stories about Luxor Temple the tour guides and books would never know. He penetrates the seemingly impenetrable native bureaucracy of hidden destinations with charm and genuine emotion. It will not be long before you start wondering if the tomb or wooden shack he mentions is just around the corner. The factual map in your back-pocket reveals new colour as you pour over the names; and the twinkle in a street-seller's eye offers warmth and stories that are there for your asking. Sattin is the man who asked.