Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Doctors prescribed the baking dry heat of Egypt as the only cure for Lady Duff Gordon's poor health. So, Sally Naldrett, who had already served as the lady's maidservant for over a decade, and who had travelled with her seeking cures in the past, went with her to Egypt in 1862. They both knew that the move to Egypt was for the long term. A charming and efficient dragoman named Omar was hired to run their household and cook for them. The two women adapted to life in Luxor on the upper Nile by learning Arabic and discarding their stays and heavy English dresses in favour of the comfortable clothing of the place. Sally loved her new life. It came as a great shock to her when she made a misstep and her beloved mistress cast her out.

I loved the rich evocation of setting and the details of daily life that transported me to 19th century Egypt. Sally's personality is so similar to my own that it was easy to slip inside of her as she told her tale. For a similar book, try Joan London's Gilgamesh.

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