Tag Archives: Egypt

Arab Spring the driving force in taut international thriller

Come Home, by Patricia Gussin. Oceanview Publishing. 368 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Remember 2011 – the year of the Arab Spring? The turmoil in the Middle East provides a backdrop for Ms. Gussin’s fast-paced thriller. Ahmed Masud, middle son in a wealthy Egyptian family, is called back to Cairo to help prepare for his family’s future after the Mubarak regime collapses. Their wealth derives being favored by Mubarak’s son, who handed them an Egyptian cotton empire. Also, Ahmed’s parents wish to see his five-year-old son, Alex. Succumbing to their pressure, and unsettled by medical malpractice lawsuits, Ahmed steals his son away to Cairo, rashly jeopardizing his marriage and the American dream lifestyle he and his wife, also a plastic surgeon, have shared.  

Readers will be puzzled by Ahmed’s sudden sense of family duty, as was his wife, Dr. Nicole Nelson, who is outraged and crushed by his behavior. She wants her son back! Nicole rallies the support of her twin sister Natalie and their accomplished, successful brothers.

A second crisis hits Natalie, who is in charge of a major program at a large pharmaceutical company. Its cancer drug has tested well and is saving lives with the promise of saving many more. However, people are dying – of constipation. The FDA insists that this serious problem be cleared up. The drug itself is not deadly; rather, the painkillers prescribed to lessen the patients’ suffering are causing the problem. Her career in the balance, Natalie has a difficult time balancing the needs of her company and her desire to aide her sister, reeling from Ahmed’s behavior. Natalie, however, is up to the task.

The Nelson family hires a major security agency to work on rescuing Alex. The chief of the security team has extensive connections and immediately puts them to use.


The plot runs back and forth among happenings in Egypt, Philadelphia, Uruguay, Belgium, and Liberia. The Masud family is under great stress, and Ahmed’s older and younger brothers are power-crazed psychopaths driven to extremes by the threats to the elite Mubarak establishment and by their own greed. There is a race to solve the pharma problem, another to control and relocate the Masud family, and through it all the chase after Nicole’s missing son. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 15, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 16 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly -Come Home

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King Solomon’s frailties threaten to doom his kingdom

The Judgment, by D. J. Niko. Medallion Press. 292 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

An ambitious historical novel, The Judgment spans the years 965-925 BCE, the reign of King Solomon after the death of King David. It is a tale of gigantic personalities, huge ambition, fervent nationalism, fragile treaties, and multiple betrayals. Solomon, charged with ruling the united monarchies of the Hebrew people, is also charged with establishing David’s goal of a colossal temple in Jerusalem. It is envisioned as a place with the God of Israel will dwell, and thus its design and materials must match that aspiration.

Daphne Nikolopoulos, photography by Lauren Lieberman / LILA PHOTO

D.J. Niko

Upon visiting Egypt to make a bargain with Pharoah Psusennes II for huge quantities of gold to adorn the Temple, Solomon is smitten by the Egyptian leader’s beautiful daughter, Nicaule. The marriage between the King of the Hebrews and the Pharoah’s daughter creates an allegiance of mutual benefit to both nations. However, Nicaule – who has been forced into the marriage – is resentful of her situation, lavish though it is. She loves another, the Libyan warrior who will in time become Pharaoh Shoshenq I. He, in turn, is most desirous of her.

Nicaule’s resentment at finding herself the virtual slave of what she considers a lesser people whets her appetite for revenge. She uses her considerable sexual prowess to blind Solomon to her schemes to undermine his power. Solomon is shown to be a weak, soft, self-indulgent leader, as well as a man whose behavior suggests a loss of faith.


Basemath, Nicaule’s daughter by her lover Shoshenq, has been raised as Solomon’s daughter. This subterfuge was Nicaule’s first betrayal.

The novel is structured so that we meet Basemath first. That is, we first see the crisis facing the people of Israel from Egypt’s attack in 925BCE. Then we are taken back to the time of Solomon’s ascent to the throne and follow the action until we catch up with 925BCE once again – and then move forward to the resolution. This is a standard point of attack and it works well for this material.

Basemath is perhaps the only character in the novel who is truly likeable and admirable, yet she is reserved for the opening and closing sections of the novel. Other characters – certain Egyptian and Hebrew military leaders; the estimable high priest (Kohain Gadol) Zadok; the temptress Queen Makeda of Sheba; Nicaule’s friend, attendant, and counselor Irisi – are among those of ongoing interest.  Indeed, Ms. Niko populates her story with a large cast that is needed to fulfill a wide range of functions at upper and lower levels of the principals’ actions. Many are simply go-betweens; others have more important duties. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 25, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Judgment

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“And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East,” by Richard Engel

  • Simon & Schuster. 256 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

“An unexpected, suspenseful page-turner.”

At once career memoir and analysis of recent Middle East history, Richard Engel’s new book, And Then All Hell Broke Loose, is an unexpected, suspenseful page-turner. It is the story of a young, enthusiastic journalist’s coming of age as a premier foreign (read “war”) correspondent. Fresh out of Stanford, and at first without employment, Engel plunked himself down in the major trouble spots of the Arab world, beginning in Cairo in 1993.

After a string of freelance assignments, he became NBC’s Beirut bureau chief and then the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. As the book title promises, all hell is breaking loose around Engel, but that’s because he eagerly shows up wherever that is likely to happen. He is plying his trade.



One fascinating thread in Engel’s powerful presentation involves the tradecraft and survival skills of a foreign correspondent: where to stay, how to travel, what to bring from one place to another, how to develop contacts, how to interview effectively, and, perhaps most important, how to stay safe and out of legal trouble. Dozens of episodes dramatize the daily working life of someone seeking and developing the stories that will reach an editor and get into print or on the air.

Another thread is Engel’s take on the history he has reported. Of course, it wasn’t history yet, but the unfolding present: the downfalls of Mubarak and Morsi in Egypt; the second Intifada in Jerusalem; the wars in Lebanon, Iraq (where Engel spent several years), Libya, and Syria. For Engel, it was all close up and personal. Yet he wasn’t part of the story. Now he is.

Looking back, he can offer personal reflections on the political dimensions and consequences of U.S. actions undertaken or not undertaken during the Bush 2 and Obama presidencies. Engel understands the forces influencing their decisions, but he judges these men rather harshly and supports his judgments convincingly. . . .

For the full review, see: And Then All Hell Broke Loose | Washington Independent Review of Books

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A powerful , bittersweet memoir of multicultural existence

East of the Sun: a Memoir, by Noha Shaath Ismail. Authorhouse. 196 pages. $24.95 hardback, $16.95 paperback. E-book available.

Noha Ismail’s odyssey is one in which her world keeps changing and an idyllic sense of the past is challenged, even threatened, by each change. Many of the changes involve shifts – or confusions – of identity. Ms. Ismail was born in British Mandate Palestine to a Lebanese mother and a father born in Gaza. The family lived in Jaffa, moving to Alexandria, Egypt five years after she was born, but she carries nonetheless a sense of loss for what she calls her homeland, since 1948 under Israeli sovereignty. 

When the author speaks of having “lost her country” and of spending her life “hitched to a place that did not appear on the map,” one can empathize with the emotional truth while recognizing that the existence of an independent Palestinian nation is a continuing matter of debate among historians and political leaders. Early 20th-century maps of the region show Palestine as an outpost of the Ottoman Empire or a ward of the British Mandate. One cannot find a recognized nation or country, but certainly British Mandate Palestine’s predominantly Arab city of Jaffa was her first homeland.

Thriving in the cosmopolitan, Western-influenced Alexandria of her youth, Noha is placed in English speaking schools, including the Sacred Heart School and the prestigious English Girls’ College (renamed the El-Nasr Girls’ College). She is selected for admission to the University of Alexandria and earns a degree in English Literature. As a young woman, Noha Shaath makes an adventurous relocation to the U. S., earning a Master’s Degree in Library Science at Philadelphia’s Drexel University. She soaks up the spirit and energy of the tumultuous 1960s, including student protest movements.

The Alexandria that is functionally her first home, the home she can truly remember, loses the charm it once held as Egypt suffers setbacks of national confidence and prestige. Europeans leave. Many Arabs look for opportunities elsewhere. After the Suez War in 1956, Arab nationalism swells while repressive measures set gloom against expectation. Nasser’s humiliation in what the west calls the Six Day War (1967) furthers the flight of important segments of cosmopolitan Alexandria, changing the mood and character of the city.

Ms.  Ismail looks carefully and lovingly at the lives of her parents and her husband’s parents. Through these remarkable biographies, she paints luminous portraits of times and places across the spectrums of class and culture. She gives readers an education in Arab and Muslim sensibilities: what bonds them and what (like the various dialects of the Arabic language) separates them. The lost world motif remains in focus. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the May 23, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 24 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Ismail 1 pdf and here: Florida Weekly – Ismail 2 pdf

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