BIOGRAPHY

Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller

Farrar. Oct. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9780374600181. $27. MEMOIR
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In this memoir, Wassef, the cofounder of the influential Cairo bookstore Diwan, recounts building her business and narrates her journey as a wife, working mother, and Egyptian. She paints a vivid image of the book industry in Cairo of nearly 20 years ago, when she entered the scene with her sister Hind (cofounder of Diwan), describing the harried world of publishing and the misogyny that working Egyptian women faced, as well as the streets and neighborhoods of her city. With the founding of Diwan in 2002, the sisters were determined to provide a new outlet for culture and entertainment and carve out a space for women to freely read and explore. Wassef writes about building her reputation and skill as a bookseller over years of operating Diwan and overseeing large and small aspects of the store; all the while, she reflects on her identity as an Egyptian woman. The narrative combines memoir, a business success story, and literary criticism, and Wassef shares her love of fiction and the kinds of books she has gravitated to in times of need.
VERDICT Wassef’s toughness and honesty will endear her to readers, who will surely champion her throughout this chronicle spanning marriage and divorce, the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the country’s first democratic election, and the author’s eventual decision to leave her role at Diwan to make space for the new.
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