The streets of Cairo make strange music. The echoing calls to prayer; the raging insults hurled between drivers; the steady crescendo of horns honking; the shouts of street vendors; the television sets and radios blaring from every sidewalk. Nadia Wassef knows this song by heart.
In 2002, with her sister, Hind, and their friend, Nihal, she founded Diwan, a fiercely independent bookstore. They were three young women with no business degrees, no formal training, and nothing to lose. At the time, nothing like Diwan existed in Egypt. Culture was languishing under government mismanagement, and books were considered a luxury, not a necessity. Ten years later, Diwan had become a rousing success, with ten locations, 150 employees, and a fervent fan base.
Frank, fresh, and very funny, Nadia Wassef's memoir tells the story of this journey. Its eclectic cast of characters features Diwan's impassioned regulars, like the demanding Dr. Medhat; Samir, the driver with CEO aspirations; meditative and mythical Nihal; silent but deadly Hind; dictatorial and exacting Nadia, a self-proclaimed bitch to work with-and the many people, mostly men, who said Diwan would never work.
Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller is a portrait of a country hurtling toward revolution, a feminist rallying cry, and an unapologetic crash course in running a business under the law of entropy. Above all, it is a celebration of the power of words to bring us home.
About the Author
Nadia Wassef is an owner of Diwan, Egypt's first modern bookstore, which she co-founded in 2002 with her sister, Hind. She received an MFA from Birkbeck College at the University of London; a Master in Social Anthropology from the University of London; and a Master in English from American University in Cairo. Before Diwan, she worked in research and advocacy for the Female Genital Mutilation Taskforce and in the Women and Memory Forum. Featured on the Forbes List of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the Middle East in 2014, 2015, and 2016, Wassef's work has been covered in Time, Monocle, Business Monthly, and elsewhere. She lives in London with her two daughters.