City of the Sun by Juliana Maio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received an ARC of City Of The Sun By Juliana Maio from NetGalley.com in exchange for an honest review.
On October 6, 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated while he attended a parade in Egypt. So unexpected was this attack on Sadat that when the murderers climbed into the stands to kill him, he thought they were part of the show and saluted them. I stood in my kitchen watching the event unfurl on my 10-inch black and white tv screen. It was the raw footage of what was supposed to be a parade, but instead became the massacre of an Egyptian President. Sadat had been in the news frequently with Menachem Begin in their joint effort to bring peace to the Middle East. I had followed the progress they were making along with President Jimmy Carter. What I did not know was what part this region of the world had played in WWII. For some reason history classes did not cover much about North African involvement in that war. This book is part of the missing background to that story, and it involves Sadat's inclusion into the war planning and fight for control of that region because of the Suez Canal. There is a love story that takes place in the novel, but for me the book was valuable for the insight into the background and culture of people who had to live in unbelievably stressful situations. Everyone knows the story of the German Jews; such is not the case for other people who also had a Jewish heritage. In any event, I cried while I watched people in the parade viewing stands try to make sense of a chaotic situation. I believed I was watching the possibility of Peace for the Middle East crumble under the boots of assassins. That turned out to be an accurate assessment as current news headlines show us daily.
This story begins with Maya and her family waiting for their steam ship, the El Aziz, to dock into the port of Alexandria, Egypt. Maya, her father, and her brother had been assured that Jews were safe in Egypt, but there were signs of war everywhere. At the same time as Maya and her family were waiting to enter Alexandria, Mickey Connolly an American journalist is trying to stay in Egypt so he can write news stories to let Americans at home know just what the real situation is with the Germans using every means at their disposal to take over areas of North Africa not already under their control. To help them in this endeavor, they have placed a spy, Heinrich Kesner, in a houseboat under the guise of being a Polish officer trying to dodge an assignment that would have put him on the lines fighting. Kesner has managed to intercept encoded messages going to the Americans and he is using this information to track down his assignment: Maya's brother, Eric Blumenthal, because of work Eric was doing in the relatively unknown area of quantum physics. Both the Americans and the Germans want Blumenthal working for them, and it is a matter of who finds him first and brings him into this area of expertise which includes making the atomic bomb.
For me, the love story was secondary to the spy plot. How the people working undercover during that time of intense paranoia among different cultures was fascinating to me. I thought Juliana Maio did a very good job of juggling a love story that seemed doomed from the start with the life experiences of people fighting to preserve a nation from extinction. Maio includes cultural references to layer the story even further with details that were interesting and explained some of the behavior of various diverse groups which otherwise might not have made much sense. It was shocking to read how people from the same ethnic background were often forced to betray one another, making choices on who to save and who to sacrifice for the good of a few very subjective choices.
I rated this book 5 Stars for all the different levels of interest Maio brought to her story: in fact, if 10 Stars would have been an option I would have given it an 11. The history of the Jewish people from Biblical times forward has always been interesting to me, and I appreciate an author doing the research and using as much factual information as possible to tell a story with so many facets. I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy historical fiction along with a good spy plot AND a love story to pull it all together.
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