Saint Theresa and Sleeping with Strangers
by Abdelmegid, Bahaa
In these two short novels, Bahaa Abdel Meguid displays the impressive range of his narrative imagination. Set in the lower-class Cairo district of Shubra, Saint Theresa tells the story of two young women, Budour and Sawsan, childhood friend who come of age following the 1967 war. Budour marries a humble tailor named Girgis, but begins an extended affair with his Jewish employer, Luka. Her friend Sawsan goes off to the university, only to fall in love with a dangerous young Marxist named Salim. From the ghost of a mad grandmother to student protests following Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, Saint Theresa presents a sweeping portrait of Egyptian society through the lives, loves, and jealousies of Sawsan, Budour, Girgis, and Luka. In Sleeping with Strangers, Abdel Meguid turns his lens on the United States—following an Egyptian, Basim, who is drawn to the “land of opportunity,” only to end up in an American prison. His encounter with a fellow prisoner who preaches of the “black Messiah,” and his affair with a Russian woman become entangled with Basim’s family history of Egyptian official secrets and a pile of stolen documents. Masterfully told, Sleeping with Strangers evokes the conflicting pull of east and west, as Basim is torn between Cairo and Boston, alternately drawn to and repelled by his vision of America.