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Author: Ducornet, Rikki Set In . . .
 Africa, Egypt, Cairo
Genre: Historical Novel
Time Frame: 1950s
Published: 2003
Description: A mother’s betrayal, an unexpurgated copy of The Arabian Nights, a dazzling perfume-maker, and the scent of rose attar all serve to awaken a girl of thirteen to erotic life.

In Rikki Ducornet’s new novel, Elizabeth, the daughter of a professor of history living in Cairo in the 1950s, tells how she came to be an anatomist of mummies, as she opens up to us the sensations and aromas of ancient times, and explains how the city of Cairo itself gives her power – and wisdom – and takes away from her the part of the self that is necessary for love.

When her mother leaves her father to “walk” the streets of Cairo, and her father forgets himself in games of chess and war, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth ponders Schéhérazade’s words, “It is good for a girl to be with
a man,” and finds comfort at the shop of Ramses Ragab, a master perfumer dedicated to resurrecting the lost
fragrances of the past (the Susinum prized by Roman women; the nardinon loved by Pliny; the hekenou of
the Pharaohs).

Under the tutelage of the perfumer, Elizabeth reads ancient esoteric texts and learns the mysteries of fragrance. Ramses Ragab is a sensitive and brilliant man, and Elizabeth’s burst of love for him has a child’s intensity and a young woman’s passion. When her father hires a magician to bring back his wife, Elizabeth
discovers just how precious she herself is – and how worthless – as a girl and soon to be beautiful woman,
in this ancient land of stone, sand, and darkness.
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