Tells the story of the Batrakanis, members of a Syrian family who immigrated to Egypt, where they prosper as fez makers, until the overthrow of King Farouk gives the Egyptians control of their own country for the first time since the pharaohs and ending the popularity of the fez.
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Robert Sol was born in Cairo and moved to Paris at the age of eighteen, where he is now an ombudsman at Le Monde. He is the author of The Photographer's Wife (Harvill, 1999).From Publishers Weekly:
The tarboosh, that conical, usually red headgear characteristic of the Middle East at the beginning of the 20th century, sits jauntily atop Sol?'s semi-autobiographical story of a Syrian Greek Catholic family in Egypt. The 1946 birth of Charles, the author's surrogate, is chronicled in the opening episode of this sprawling, multigenerational tale, but the novel's central figure is Charles's grandfather, Georges Bey Batrakani, the leading manufacturer of tarbooshes in pre-Nasser Egypt. In 1860, when the Muslims of Damascus set out to massacre their Christian neighbors, the young girl who will become Georges's mother flees Syria for Egypt. Late 19th-century Egypt, while officially autonomous but nominally under Ottoman rule, was really a British protectorate, with a sizable Syrian community; upper-class Syrians spoke English and French. Georges's father, ?lias Batrakani, is a clerk for the British government and a great anglophile. Later, Georges and his brother, Nando, make their own fortunes, Nando as a land speculator, and Georges as a businessman, with profits impressive enough that the upper-class Syrian Touta family allow Georges to marry their oldest daughter, Yolande. Unfortunately, Georges is infatuated with the youngest daughter, Maggi. As the years go by, however, he falls in love with Yolande, even as he sustains a love affair with Maggi. The narrative chronicles the Batrakanis' social and economic progress as Georges's boys grow up: Michel, the dreamer; Andr?, the priest; Alex, the playboy; Paul, the snob. Of the girls, it is Viviane who gives birth to Charles. Charles's father, Selim Yared, and Selim's family, play a large role in the narrative, too. The fortunes of the Batrakanis are symbolized by the fortunes of the tarboosh, which flourished up to 1952. Modernity, imposed by the nationalist Nasser, puts an end both to the headgear and to the Batrakanis' sojourn in Egypt. Winner of the 1992 Prix Mediterran?e, this leisurely, satisfying novel breathes the nostalgia of a crowded family gathering.
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