Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt’s Roaring 20s

Norton. Mar. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780393541137. $28.95. HIST
In this debut, Cormack, an award-winning editor and translator who specializes in Arabic culture, offers a highly readable account of an era that is “often mythologized” in Egypt, but virtually unknown to Western readers: a story of glamour when Cairo was a cosmopolitan city and Egypt seemed to be on the verge of political, social, and religious change. Inspired by the revolt against British colonial rule, a new generation debated the country’s future. Cormack effectively explains the emergence of feminism on the stages of nightclubs, theaters, and cabarets, where women with little formal education were defining their own places in the new country and new century. Utilizing archives in Egypt and the United Kingdom, among others, Cormack’s thoroughly researched work focuses on seven exceptional women who sometimes operated on the margins of decency and inspired opposition from various quarters. The story of interwar Egypt is told through the eyes of these women—actresses, dancers, and singers—who enjoyed opportunities but also faced prejudice and exploitation as they called on each other to fight for equality.
VERDICT An engaging social history that touches on issues of freedom and liberation, issues that continue to resonate today.
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