It’s becoming very rare that we find books about Egypt that are actually interesting. Usually, books are becoming very one dimensional with the approach they take when discussing the country; which is not a bad thing, but only repetitive.
Then comes this book out of nowhere that is truly a breath of fresh air. The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution, written by Peter Hessler and published by the Penguin Press, is like nothing we read before.
From the acclaimed author of River Town and Oracle Bones, The Buried is an intimate excavation of life in one of the world’s oldest civilizations at a time of convulsive change!
Before we review the book, here is a little background on the author.
Peter Hessler is an American writer and journalist with several acclaimed books. He also had several articles published in The New Yorker and National Geographic, among other publications.
Hessler lived in China from 2000 till 2007, where he was covering events for the New Yorker. Later, in October 2011, Hessler and his wife were moved to Cairo to cover the events of the Middle East. Throughout his stay in Egypt, Hessler managed to learn Arabic and blend in with the Egyptians and their culture.
While Hessler was worried about adjusting to the much quieter city of Cairo after living in China, but just his luck, the Arab Spring was just happening, and the quieter city turned into chaos.
In the book, Hessler dives into his fascination with Egypt’s rich history and culture, and how similar it has been to the reality of modern Egypt.
Through his stay, Hessler and his wife developed a friendship with numerous people. From his Arabic instructor to tour guides to even his garbage collector, and several others. With each person coming from a different background, Hessler included them and their struggles in Egypt in his book.
One of the most interesting characters, however, was Sayyed, the garbage man. Sayyed is an illiterate, but highly perceptive man, whose access to the trash of Cairo would be its own kind of archaeological excavation.
Hessler also met a Chinese family who own a small business in the lingerie trade. Through the family, we got to see how their view of the country proved a bracing counterpoint to the West’s conventional wisdom.
Most of the stories in the book, we, Egyptians, got to experience ourselves, or at least know someone who did. But the storytelling and the outsider – who later became an insider – perspective makes it more and more interesting.
The stories of people after the Arab Spring and how they were affected by it shows the drawing connections between contemporary politics and the ancient past.
Hessler creates an astonishing portrait of a country and its people. What emerges is a book of uncompromising intelligence and humanity–the story of a land in which a weak state has collapsed but its underlying society remains in many ways painfully the same!
It’s a highly recommended book that we thoroughly enjoyed reading. If you got your hands on it, we promise you, you won’t put it down until you’re done.