The Last Watchman of Old Cairo

Based partly on historical accounts, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas (The Oracle of Stamboul) chronicles a Muslim family's unusual bond with a Jewish synagogue.

Around 1000 CE, "when Cairo was still two cities and the Jews but a tribe among them," a Muslim orphan named Ali becomes watchman of Ibn Ezra synagogue, a recently vandalized Jewish temple. One of his chief duties is protecting the Ezra Scroll, a perfect, magical Torah scroll. Though Ali intends to serve faithfully, disastrous temptation awaits. Almost 900 years later, two wealthy British sisters who study ancient texts visit Ali's descendant Muhammad al-Raqb, desperate to find the Ezra Scroll before con men steal it. In the present day, Berkeley literature student Joseph al-Raqb goes to Cairo on impulse following the death of his father, Ahmed, the last watchman of Ibn Ezra. Raised in America by his Jewish mother, Joseph searches for the truth behind family legend, guided by a framed fragment of an ancient letter suggesting a boy named Ali receive a job as watchman of Ibn Ezra.

A coming-of-age story spanning several ages, Lukas's desert outing soars thanks to its themes of inclusion and forgiveness. Deceptively brief, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo charms with its cast of misfits and lost souls who find their way with the dream of the Ezra Scroll to guide them. Lukas's warm, thoughtful prose has a wry undercurrent steering it clear of the maudlin. Sweet yet melancholy, this romantic gem weighs little but invites deep discussion. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library

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