City of the Sun by Juliana Maio
In this independently published novel, Maio brings to life 1941 Cairo. Mickey Connolly is an American reporter attempting to bring the truth of how badly the war is going for the British back home. However, when he witnesses a battle that devastated British troops, the Brits are ready to throw him out of the country. But his ability to get in and out of tricky situations has captured the attention of the newly formed Office of the Coordinator of Information, the precursor to both the Office of Strategic Services and its successor, the Central Intelligence Agency. Mickey is tasked by William “Wild Bill” Donovan to locate a Jewish atomic scientist who fled Europe and is considered critical to the war effort.
Meanwhile, Maya is a displaced Jewess who had just entered Cairo with her family. They plan to stay only for however long it takes to gather the paperwork for an illegal immigration to Palestine. A chance meeting in a crowded café, leads to Mickey and Maya meeting. Soon, they begin making every effort to see each other as Mickey conducts his search and Maya explores the city while awaiting her papers. While all of this is ongoing, Mickey must evade a Nazi spy also seeking the scientist and the Nazi’s under Rommel’s command advance closer and closer to the “City of the Sun.”
As the back cover mentions, the book evokes the aura of the movie Casablanca. Both share a forbidden love story, espionage, intrigue, and parties admist an African desert as the Germans advance. Unlike Casablanca, this novel “shows” much more of the landscape with scenes that make the reader a tourist within 1941 Cairo. I thought the book was well-written, contained a touching love story woven into the intrigue of the search, and evoked the feelings of urgency citizens in Cairo must have felt. The historical elements included were spot on to the non-fiction I have read, but Maio alters the timeline of several key events to fit the story and explains this well in the afterwards.
I received a copy of this novel via a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway back at the tail end of 2013.
Do you think you will read this novel? Have you read anything else with a similar pretense? If so, please share.