‘Memories are fragile when you are seventy years old. I can’t afford to lose any more of them, not when remembering the past might help with the here and now.’
Nadia needs help. Help getting out of her hospital bed. Help taking her pills. One thing she doesn’t need help with is remembering her sister. But she does need help finding her. Alone and abandoned in a London hospital, 70-year-old Nadia is facing the rest of her life spent in a care home unless she can contact her sister Simone… who’s been missing for 50 years.
Despite being told she’s ‘confused’ and not quite understanding how wi-fi works, Nadia is determined to find Simone. So with only cryptic postcards and her own jumbled memories to go on, Nadia must race against her own fading faculties and find her sister before she herself is forgotten.
Set against the lush and glamorous backdrop of 20th century Alexandria, Carol Cooper’s The Girls from Alexandria is equal parts contemporary mystery and historical fiction: a re-coming of age story about
family, identity, and homeland.
Ask me about the Ancient Egyptians and I could give you numerous facts, ask me about Egypt from the 1950’s and I would draw a complete blank. My ignorance was finally banished by Carol Cooper’s The Girls From Alexandria.
I got to see Egypt through the eyes of Nadia, a woman laid in a hospital bed with a mysterious illness who longs to the see her long lost sister. At first glance you would think, ok I’ve read this before its going to be no different from every other novel of someone looking back over their past, and yes it followed the same premise, but in all others aspects it stood above from the crowd.
Why? First of all Nadia herself, from child to adult, Cooper gave us such a wonderful in depth portrayal of what it was like to live in an evolving Egypt. There was her love for Alexandria, the bustle of the city, the family get togethers, the inner dynamics that moulded her character and indeed her attitudes. Nadia’s elder sister, Simone, was her everything, the one person she looked to, and I suppose aspired to be like and Coopers ploy to make her disappear was a brilliant tactic as we watched Nadia stand on her own two feet, and make her own decisions both good and bad.
Her marriage to an aspiring doctor, her move backwards and forwards to the UK , the life they led all seemed empty, as Cooper gave the sense that Nadia’s life was incomplete and would never be full until she found her sister. Cooper took us to and from past to present and it was the present where her determination, her inner strength shone through, her need to prove the doctors wrong, that she really did have her sister, that she could navigate Facebook, google to look for clues and track Simone down.
As she searched, it gave Cooper scope to open up her world in Alexandria which I found absolutely fascinating. The politics of the country, the numerous coups, the protests, the assassinations were all examined but in no way drowned out the real essence of the story. We saw the impact it had on Nadia’s family, the inability to travel, the gradual erosion of status and indeed wealth, the limited choices available especially for women. It was no wonder Simone disappeared, yet Nadia remained, conformed, her small acts of rebellion carefully hidden until events forced change, new decisions and a new direction as Cooper used illness and the sense of immortality to push Nadia further in her quest to find Simone.
You would expect a happy ending, but Cooper took a different tack, looked at events from a differing angle as we saw Nadia wrestle with anger, resentment, reticence, happiness not a given but something that needed to be found, compromises reached.
All in all, The Girls From Alexandria was a beautiful fascinating novel that brilliantly drew on Cooper’s own personal experiences, that gave the novel such a wonderfully authentic feel.
I would like to thank Agora for a copy of The Girls From Alexandria to read and review and to Peyton Stableford for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and author. Born in London, she was only a few months old when her cosmopolitan family took her to live in Egypt. She returned to the UK at eighteen and went to Cambridge University where she studied medicine and her fellow students. On her path to a career in general practice, she worked at supermarket checkouts, typed manuscripts in Russian, and spent years as a hospital doctor.
Following a string of popular health books as well as an award-winning medical textbook, Carol turned to writing fiction. Her first two novels were contemporary tales set in London. Ever a believer in writing what you know, she mined the rich material of her childhood for The Girls from Alexandria.
Carol lives with her husband in Cambridge and Hampstead. She has three grownup sons and three stepchildren.