February 19, 2024

“The Lady of Zamalek”: What the Victors Didn’t Write

The Lady of Zamalek

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Writing about history is akin to a critical surgical procedure. As the saying goes, “history is written by the victors,” but in literature, the task becomes more challenging. How do we interrogate history to unveil what the victors deliberately omitted? How do we give a role to the ordinary and marginalized in this narrative? How does the novel serve as a revealing mirror, exposing deliberately concealed truths and putting history itself on trial? This is what Egyptian author and judge Ashraf El-Ashmawi attempted through his novel “The Lady of Zamalek,” published by the Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House in 2018. The English translation, in collaboration with the American University in Cairo Press, was released by Hoopoe Publishing House in 2020, translated by Peter Daniel.

“The Lady of Zamalek,” spanning 397 pages, centers around the murder of Italian merchant Solomon Chicurel in the 1920s, a crime that captivated Egyptian public opinion in 1927. Ashraf El-Ashmawi takes us on an extensive journey of over 60 years, unraveling the social, political, and cultural changes Egypt underwent during that period.

Despite the capture and revelation of the true culprits behind Chicurel’s murder—Anstie Christo, the former driver of Chicurel; John Dario, the notorious safe-cracker; Eduardo Moramarco, the accomplice; and Giordano Grimaldi, who drugged Chicurel’s wife—El-Ashmawi introduces a fifth partner who escaped capture. Through this character, the narrative takes a different perspective, providing a unique entry point into the story and serving as an exploration of the human psyche and a challenge to the official narrative.

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