‘Is this another racy novel, Carol?’
I guess I deserve that question, and the sniggers that often accompany it. Yes, I did write two novels about 30-somethings looking for love in all the wrong places. But The Girls from Alexandria is different. It’s about 70-year-old Nadia whose brain is failing. She’s going to end up in a care home unless she finds her sister. However, the sister went missing from the family home in Alexandria 50 years ago, and all Nadia has to go on is a box of old postcards and her own jumbled memories of life in Egypt.
Why would a medical journalist venture into fiction?
For one thing, it’s easier to write what you know, and, like my previous novels, this one has a medical strand. I can put my professional experience to good use when dealing with Nadia’s confusional state and the hoops the doctors make her jump
There’s the usual temptation, though. Like every doctor, I’ve known many memorable characters – both patients and colleagues – that would fit perfectly into a book. Alas, ethics demands that they stay firmly in the consulting room.
My novel’s backstory is more personal. I grew up in Alexandria. My mother’s family was of Syrian and Lebanese origin, and they settled in Alex about 100 years before I was born. It was natural to give Nadia the same ethnicity, and for her to search for the meaning of ‘home’ as much as for her missing sister.
Some of that search is fruitless, since the cosmopolitan world Nadia lived in has long gone. While it was comfortable for many, all was not well in the 1950s and that entire society was on the precipice of change. Now it lives on only in the mind.
Although my book is fiction, every scene is steeped in memories that are as vivid as ever, and I still smell the jasmine that permeates the air on hot nights. I can hear the tram that hurtles from one gloriously named station to the next, shifting its heavy human cargo through Chatby, Ibrahimeyya, Cleopatra, Glymenopoulo, and San Stefano.
I still taste corn grilled over charcoal by the seafront, and sweet homemade lemonade that made every ailment better. The remedies were simple back then, as were most things. That’s the solace of fiction.
The Girls from Alexandria (published by Agora Books) is out as an ebook, audio book, and now as a paperback.