Originally published: 1 April 2021 (eBook) ; 29 April 2021 (Paperback)
Author: Carol Cooper
Published by: Agora Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page count: 337
Reading dates: 20-25 March 2021
“Memories are fragile when you are seventy years old. I can’t afford to lose any more of them, not when remembering the past might help with the here and now.”
Nadia needs help. Help getting out of her hospital bed. Help taking her pills. One thing she doesn’t need help with is remembering her sister. But she does need help finding her.
Alone and abandoned in a London hospital, 70- year-old Nadia is facing the rest of her life spent in a care home unless she can contact her sister Simone… who’s been missing for 50 years.
Despite being told she’s ‘confused’ and not quite understanding how wi-fi works, Nadia is determined to find Simone. So with only cryptic postcards and her own jumbled memories to go on, Nadia must race against her own fading faculties and find her sister before she herself is forgotten.
Set against the lush and glamorous backdrop of 20th century Alexandria, Carol Cooper’s The Girls from Alexandria is equal parts contemporary mystery and historical fiction: a re-coming of age story about family, identity, and homeland.
I’d never read a book set in Egypt before and The Girls from Alexandria is a vibrant and evocative read. Told over dual timelines, we meet 70 year old Nadia who is in hospital after a seizure. The doctors are a little puzzled by what is actually wrong with her but she is certainly confused and alone so she heading towards a nursing home. She is increasingly desperate to track down her older sister Simone, whom she idealised as a child and who disappeared over 50 years ago after leaving Alexandria to travel to Europe. Apart from a collection of postcards Simone sent Nadia with cryptic messages, there are no other clues to her whereabouts.
We also hear of Nadia’s childhood and young adult life in Alexandria starting in the early 1950s when Nadia is around 6 years old. I found the descriptions of the food and culture fascinating as well as the various political upheavals in Egypt which went on over her life. Nadia marries a doctor and ends up living in London but is unable to have children herself. The timeline of isn’t always linear which I’m guessing is to demonstrate Nadia’s confusion in remembering her past but it seems to work. She looks for her sister on and off over the years but it is only when she is in hospital with her collection of postcards that clues seem to come together for her. A friendly nurse lends her an iPad and she is able to start browsing the internet for people from her past, in an attempt to find out what happened to Simone.
This is a great mixture of historical fiction layered with mystery. Nadia’s confusion adds an extra element to the book as we don’t know if her memories are true. I felt sorry for Nadia in hospital, especially as she doesn’t want to go into a home but she is a character who is tenacious and stubborn.
Although not a memoir, the author grew up in Alexandria and this is what brought the city of Alexandria alive to me. It was lovely to travel to a different time and place for a while and if you love historical fiction, this one is worth a try!
Many thanks to Peyton at Agora Books for sending me a proof copy for the blog tour. You can see what others are saying by checking out these other brilliant bloggers!
About the author:
Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and author. Born in London, she was only a few months old when her cosmopolitan family took her to live in Egypt. She returned to the UK at eighteen and went to Cambridge University where she studied medicine and her fellow students. On her path to a career in general practice, she worked at supermarket checkouts, typed manuscripts in Russian, and spent years as a hospital doctor.
Following a string of popular health books as well as an award – winning medical textbook, Carol turned to writing fiction. Her first two novels were contemporary tales set in London. Ever a believer in writing what you know, she mined the rich material of her childhood for The Girls from Alexandria . Carol lives with her husband in Cambridge and Hampstead. She has three grownup sons and three stepchildren.