The Lady of Zamalek

Ashraf El-Ashmawi
Translated by Peter Daniel


It was in the spring of 1927 that Cairo’s attention was captured by the shocking murder of prominent businessman Solomon Cicurel in his Nile-side villa in the upscale Zamalek district. It was a burglary that went wrong and four culprits were soon arrested. Their trial was concluded swiftly, their punishments were decisive, and society breathed a sigh of relief.

In Ashraf El-Ashmawi’s telling, however, there was a fifth accomplice, Abbas, who escaped back to his home in the countryside to lay low until the murder trial blew over. He had not left empty-handed and had kept some documents from Cicurel’s villa, ones that he realized would lead him to a hidden safe.

Abbas hatched a plan to return to the capital, find the safe, and make his fortune. The first step was to place his sister Zeinab with Cicurel’s widow, Paula.   A web of twists and intrigues run through the life of Abbas, in what unfolds as a tale of modern Egypt—taking in the Second World War, the 1952 revolution and the rise of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the 1967 war, the Sadat and Mubarak eras—from the 1920s through to 1990.


Washington Independent Review of Books has selected The Lady of Zamalek as one of their “Favorite 51 Books of 2021.”




“'The Lady of Zamalek' hits all the sweet spots that a Western reader of historical fiction craves."—Washington Independent Review of Books

“This book certainly makes a fascinating read.”—The Modern Novel

"A bold attempt to reimagine not only the transformations of the Zamalek district of Cairo, but also those of the Egyptian nation itself."―Dr. Mohamed Afifi, al-Dostoor

"Ashraf El-Ashmawy holds a scalpel to dissect the classes of Egyptian society over more than half a century.” ―Bilal Ramadan, al-Youm al-Sabe'

“Beautiful, literary, and enjoyable”―Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building on The Barman

“A magical storyteller”―Al-Hayat on Sheepdogs



Ashraf El-Ashmawi

Ashraf El-Ashmawi is an Egyptian author, judge, and legal scholar. He worked in the public prosecutor’s office for many years and served in the Egyptian court of appeals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers and online publications, writing about crime prevention and other social and political issues. He has written eight novels which have been critically received. In 2013 he was long listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel Toya, in 2014 he won best novel at the Cairo International Book Fair for Barman, and in 2019 he again won best novel at the Bahrain Cultural Forum for Sheepdogs. His books have been translated into French, German, Japanese, Italian, and other languages, and The Lady of Zamalek is his first novel to be translated into English. 

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  • May 11th 2021
  • $18.95 / £11.99 / LE250
  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 9781649030764

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