I have read a lot of terrific World War II novels. Most of them have been strong, historically accurate stories of war-ravaged people and the lands they loved and lost. I have also read some stunning duds, with unbelievably inappropriate romances that take place between, say, a Nazi and the lovely lady next door. Since I am one of those people who have trouble giving up on a book before I’ve finished it, (no matter how ridiculous) this was hard. But I’m more careful now. I stopped reading any WWII books for a while, and then I decided I would only read books that approached the theme from a new perspective.
So when NetGalley posted City of the Sun, I checked it out. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a book set in Cairo, let alone Cairo, 1941. (think Casablanca) I had no idea that people fled Europe to Cairo, or that there was such a large, comfortable Jewish population there. I felt ignorant when I began to see a whole aspect of the war I was not familiar with – the war fought in North Africa by Rommel, and the power struggle that was taking place in Cairo as the Nazis marched toward the city.
The book intertwines a number of invented characters with the real inhabitants of the city (King Farouk, the British Ambassador, etc.), which helps with credibility when the novel drifts a little too far into romance. Thankfully, the author seems much more comfortable dealing with science and spies than with sex; which was good, as the romance seemed at best, improbable.
City of the Sun, as its title implies, is all about the city. The true hero of this story is not the sweet Jewish girl, or the nuclear scientist, or the daring American reporter, or even the desperate Nazi spy. It is Cairo: lovingly described in its splendor and its shambles. It is a city on the edge, and you will keep reading because you will come to love it, and you will care about what happens to it. And the rest of them? Don’t even worry about them; they’ll be just fine.