The adventures of a modern time traveler in Egypt’s colorful medieval past Ibn Shalaby, like many Egyptians, is looking for a job. Yet, unlike most of his fellow citizens, he is prone to sudden dislocations in time. Armed with his trusty briefcase and his Islamic-calendar wristwatch, he bounces uncontrollably through the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods, with occasional return visits to the 1990s. Along the way, he meets celebrities such as Jawhar, the founder of Cairo. He also encounters other time travelers, including the historian Maqrizi.
After his cassette recorder fails to impress a Fatimid caliph, he finds himself trapped in the 1300s. He joins the barbarians, cannibals, and prisoners of war who have taken over the monumental Storehouse of Banners and set up their own state in defiance of the Mamluk order. Forced to play the role of double agent, Ibn Shalaby is caught up in the struggle between the rebels and the ruling dynasty.
Khairy Shalaby, born in Kafr al-Shaykh in Egypt’s Nile Delta in 1938, has written seventy books, including novels, short stories, historical tales, and critical studies. His novel The Lodging House was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2003, and was published in English translation by the AUC Press in 2006.
Michael Cooperson is professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of California, Los Angeles.