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Cairo 1925, Haret al-Yahud, the old Jewish Quarter. Esther, a beautiful young woman believed to be possessed by demons, longs to give birth after seven blissful years of marriage. Her husband, blind since childhood, does not object when, in her effort to conceive, she participates in Muslim zar rituals. Zohar, the novel’s narrator, comes into the world, but because his mother’s breasts are dry, he is nursed by a Muslim peasant—also believed to be possessed—who has just given birth to a girl, Masreya. Suckled at the same breasts and united by a rabbi’s amulet, the milk-twins will be consumed by a passionate, earth-shaking love.
Part fantastical fable, part realistic history, A Land Like You draws on ethno-psychiatrist Tobie Nathan’s deep knowledge of North African folk beliefs to create a glittering tapestry in which spirit possession and religious mysticism exist side by side with sober facts about the British occupation of Egypt and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Officers’ Movement. Historical figures such as Gamel Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and King Farouk mingle with Nathan’s fictional characters in this riveting and revealing tale of an Egypt caught between tradition and modernity, multiculturalism and nationalism, oppression and freedom.
About the Author
Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Université-Paris VIII, Tobie Nathan is the author of a dozen novels and numerous psychoanalytic studies. A pioneering practitioner of ethno-psychiatry, in 1993 he founded the Centre George Devereux, where he worked primarily with migrants and refugees. He has served as a diplomat in Israel and Africa and is a Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His book A Land Like You was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt in 2015.
Joyce Zonana is a writer and literary translator and professor emerita of English at the City University of New York.
"Each page of this rich novel drips with scintillating descriptions of every food prepared and tasted by its characters, as well as every scent that wafts through the dank Cairo alleys and the nearby countryside. From the dingy hovels of the city’s poorest residents to the glittering palaces of the wealthy international aristocracy, A Land Like You exists in visual and auditory splendor."
— Foreword Reviews
"In this breathtaking mixed-genre fictionalized history and fantastical tale, Tobie Nathan’s A Land Like You offers a poignant account of the last five decades of Cairo’s Jewish community prior to its calamitous departure for other lands in the 1950s. Through a cornucopia of sensuous allusions to aromas, dishes, amulets, prayers, saints’ tombs, songs, dances, films, and witty colloquialisms, the reader becomes a privileged witness to an Egypt characterized by an intimate cultural continuum between Jews and their neighboring Muslims. In this dazzling novel French stands in, as it were, for Arabic, while also making tangible to the reader the linguistic syncretism as shaped in the wake of imperialism and postcolonial displacements— all rendered in Joyce Zonana’s masterful translation."
— Ella Shohat, author of 'Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices'
"Set in the first half of the twentieth century, Tobie Nathan’s A Land Like You tells an interesting, poignant, and humorous generational tale of a family in Cairo’s fabled Jewish Quarter. Through the odysseys of his characters, Nathan, in his novel expressively rendered into English by Joyce Zonana, mirrors a once-thriving cosmopolitan nation ruled by a monarch and under British occupation."
— Alaa Al Aswany, author of 'The Yacoubian Building and The Automobile Club of Egypt'