Sunset Oasis is a historical novel set in the Sahara, more precisely in the Siwa Oasis in North-Western Egypt about 50 km from the Libyan border. The novel begins with the undesired transfer (and promotion) of police officer Mahmoud Abd El Zahir to the oasis some time in the 1890s, a couple of years after the failed Urabi revolt (leading to the British occupation of Egypt in 1882) in which he has been involved. Mahmoud's Irish wife Catherine accompanies him. As expected, the inhabitants of the oasis give the couple a cold welcome. The commissioner and his wife live isolated in a house outside the village, always aware that their lives are in danger because the people of the oasis don't want them there. Despite all they settle down to a quiet life of routine. Limited to themselves the ghosts of the past invade and estrange them, though. The arrival of the ambitious as well as opportunistic junior officer Captain Wafsi and Catherine's critically ill sister Fiona in the oasis is the beginning of the end. The presence of those two people suffices to show Mahmoud and Catherine even more plainly the shortcomings of their own lives and to push them further in their desire to achieve something great and memorable.
The story of Sunset Oasis is told from alternating perspectives which give the characters a very authentic and real shape. The main first-person narrators are Mahmoud and Catherine, but as the story evolves Sheikh Sabir, Sheikh Yahyah, and even Alexander the Great take up the thread. The historical facts and the tensions of the period are depicted with great precision, but no more than necessary to understand the background.
It goes without saying that I enjoyed the read which gave me the additional benefit of learning a few things about the history of Egypt and British colonialism beyond the clichés of Lawrence of Arabia and The English Patient. To cut a long story short: I warmly recommend the novel Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher for reading.
For the complete review please click here to go to my blog Edith's Miscellany.