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Cairo 1925, Haret al-Yahud, the old Jewish Quarter. Esther, a beautiful young woman believed to be possessed by demons, longs to give birth after seven blissful years of marriage. Her husband, blind since childhood, does not object when, in her effort to conceive, she participates in Muslim zar rituals. Zohar, the novel’s narrator, comes into the world, but because his mother’s breasts are dry, he is nursed by a Muslim peasant–also believed to be possessed–who has just given birth to a girl, Masreya. Suckled at the same breasts and united by a rabbi’s amulet, the milk-twins will be consumed by a passionate, earth-shaking love.
Part fantastical fable, part realistic history, A Land Like You draws on ethno-psychiatrist Tobie Nathan’s own Jewish Egyptian heritage and deep knowledge of North African folk beliefs to create a glittering tapestry in which spirit possession and religious mysticism exist side by side with sober facts about the British occupation of Egypt and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Officers’ Movement. Historical figures such as Gamel Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and King Farouk mingle with Nathan’s fictional characters in this riveting and revealing tale of an Egypt caught between tradition and modernity, multiculturalism and nationalism, oppression and freedom.
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About the Contributors
The author is professor emeritus of psychology at Université-Paris VIII. He has written a dozen novels and numerous psychoanalytic studies. Born to a Jewish family in Cairo in 1948, he had to flee his country with his family following the 1957 Egyptian Revolution. Educated in France, Nathan is a pioneering practitioner of ethno-psychiatry, and in 1993 he founded the Centre George Devereux where he worked primarily with migrants and refugees.
The translator was professor emerita of English at the City University of New York. A MacDowell Fellow, she received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Award for A Land Like You and is the recipient of the Global Humanities Translation Prize for her translation of Joseph D’Arbaud’s The Beast, and Other Tales (2020). She is the author of a memoir, Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, an Exile’s Journey (2007).
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