REVIEW: The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas

Title: The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
Author: Michael David Lukas
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (Penguin)
Part of a Series?: No, A Standalone
I Got A Copy Through: Penguin Random House International (THANK YOU!)
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Blurb Description: In this spellbinding novel, a young man journeys from California to Cairo to unravel centuries-old family secrets.
Joseph, a literature student at Berkeley, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. One day, a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, pulling him into a mesmerizing adventure to uncover the tangled history that binds the two sides of his family. For generations, the men of the al-Raqb family have served as watchmen of the storied Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary--perhaps magical--Ezra Scroll. The story of Joseph's family is entwined with that of the British twin sisters Agnes and Margaret, who in 1897 depart their hallowed Cambridge halls on a mission to rescue sacred texts that have begun to disappear from the synagogue.
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a moving page-turner of a novel from acclaimed storyteller Michael David Lukas. This tightly woven multigenerational tale illuminates the tensions that have torn communities apart and the unlikely forces--potent magic, forbidden love--that boldly attempt to bridge that divide.
“Any meaning the Ezra scroll might possess wasn’t in the scroll itself. It wasn’t in the parchment or the letters or even the hand that formed them. The magic of the Ezra Scroll, if there was any, resided in its possibility, in the constellation of stories circling around it.

And the beating heart of any story was an unanswerable question.

The minute I read the synopsis of this book, I WAS INTIGUED, to say the least. I’ve been trying to diversify the kinds of books I read, and not only did The Last Watchman Of Old Cairo sound stunning, it was also from the historical fiction genre I feel like I read too little off.

I finished this book earlier today, and I have LOTS OF THOUGHTS:

-- THIS BOOK WAS VERY SLOW PACED. It took over 130 pages for me to get into the story, and even then, it didn’t really pick up. I liked the three different viewpoints, but especially that of Yusuf/ Joseph Al-Raqb. He was emotionally vulnerable in a way that neither the sisters, nor Ali Al-Raqb and I really loved the way he was written.

-- I also LOVED the setting. I adored Cairo and the magic you could feel through Michael David Lukas’ writing through the centuries. I loved the descriptions of the people, the places and the Synagogue. I loved listening to the stories that were inevitably always being told within this story – I loved it all!

-- The PLOT is where it gets hazy for me. Despite this being a multi-generational story, I felt like there was no real plot behind the book. It felt more like a love letter to Cairo the city, rather that the plot driven, magic filled promise the premise delivered.

-- This is probably the only reason I am rating this book three stars – there is a lack of something substantial in this book. I loved the Ali Al-Raqb and the Ezra Scroll connected to what the twins were searching for in the 1800’s with the help of another Al-Raqb descendant to Joseph, who came back to Cairo after his father’s death to connect with the city he loved but there was NOTHING PLOT-TWISTING or MIND-BLOWING THAT KEPT ME AT THE EDGE OF MY SEAT, AND THAT MADE ME SAD.

In conclusion, this was a book with fantastic writing and brilliant characters that, unfortunately, lacked a solid plot and any kind of twist that I thought was always around the corner, but never surfaced. 
Michael David LukasMichael David Lukas has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary Scholar in Tunisia. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, his writing has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and the Georgia Review. He has received scholarships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Elizabeth George Foundation. When he isn’t writing, he teaches creative writing to third and fourth graders.

What are some of your favourite historical fiction books with a touch of magic in them?
I'm always looking for more recommendations, so please do hit me up!

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