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The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
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2020 Poll Winners > 2020/10 Discussion of Michael David Lukas' The Last Watchman of Old Cairo--POLL WINNER

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message 1: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
This is the discussion thread for Michael David Lukas' The Last Watchman of Old Cairo -- for the whole shebang, early impressions and reactions as well as reviews and conclusions.

We have been having two different discussions for each novel, one for early thoughts and another for conclusions, but in the interests of conciseness, let's try just one discussion per book. So, even if you are jumping in with conclusions, please avoid spoilers (or, if need one to express your thoughts, use the "spoiler" brackets. (See "some html is ok," above the 'comment' box.) 🌞


message 2: by ClaraBelle (new) - added it

ClaraBelle (elsiecorriedale) | 21 comments Currently awaiting my copy from my local library!


message 3: by Judith (new)

Judith Bluestone | 27 comments My girlfriend who lives in Israel gave me this book. While it won an award, I thought it was just okay. But, some years, there may not be a wealth of great fiction. Some of the back and forth with the various characters was a bit confusing for me. Interesting premise, but I felt that he could have done more with it.


message 4: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
I started this book tonight. Have a good feeling about it, plus just read about Fustat, the setting at the beginning, in Hillel Halkin's biography of Yehuda Halevi, who arrived there from Alexandria in December 1140, in time for Hanukkah. So, is he going to show up in this book? The first page says the time is "...before Maimonides," and Halevi may have played with toddler Maimonides before sailing east. Anyway, intriguing. I've just read Chap. 1.


Melissa | 43 comments I read this book last year and liked it.

Here's my review. It sums up the book, so spoiler alert!

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 6: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Melissa wrote: "I read this book last year and liked it.

Here's my review. It sums up the book, so spoiler alert!

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show..."


Thanks for sharing, Melissa. Looking forward to reading it when I'm done.

I'm moving along and still liking it.


message 7: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan Someone was gracious enough to gift me a copy of this book, so I’ll read it!


message 8: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Great, Susan! I'm at about the half-way mark. And now I'm going to go read it!


Jonathan | 184 comments I really liked this book, for me it sagged a little in the middle and really picked up in the end. The fictional characters were really interesting and the blending in of historical characters was well done. The book in its own way pays homage to two remarkable sisters who were not recognized properly for their Biblical discoveries in their time. The author has an interesting insight into Solomon Schecter and I am now exploring that in The Guide for the Perplexed. I have read the first thirty pages and Schecter, Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis appear in both books. I am interested to see how Dara Horn's portrays these characters.


message 10: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Finished it!
This one almost could have met the criteria we've been talking about for books about interfaith relationships -- except that I don't think any of the characters ever made it to a point of dealing with such issues in an actual relationship.


message 11: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan It’s on my list! It’s on my list! .....


message 12: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "It’s on my list! It’s on my list! ....."

💥 🎉 🍻 🍾 🎆


message 13: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Gearing up to review this one now.
Ironically, in light of our current nominations & poll, who knew that The Last Watchman also dealt with the issue -- the dangers -- of interfaith relationships? Over the centuries, no less!


message 14: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I don't think there are any real spoilers, but it's probably best to form your own opinions first.


message 15: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
I may add to my review, since it has occurred to me that one of the legends from the book that I was unfamiliar with might be a Hasidic tale--an area I'm not very familiar with. I had stated that I was uncertain about the legend of the "two brothers" and was wondering if it was simply part of the fiction. If anybody knows, please tell me!


message 16: by Joan (new)

Joan Cochran | 8 comments I don't know anything about the Hasidic two brothers tale, but I really enjoyed this book -- and think it should be read with Dara Horn's A Guide to the Perplexed because it fills out some of the historical info not included in Horn's book -- of the two British sisters who, with Solomon Schechter, were instrumental in retrieving the documents in the Cairo geniza. The books multiple points of view work well, with the modern day voice bringing you into the story and giving you a sense of time and history, and the others actually sharing the history. Would definintely recommend for this book for its story alone ... but I love the concept of the geniza and all the amazing information that was retrieved.


Stacey B | 1048 comments Mod
Joan wrote: "I don't know anything about the Hasidic two brothers tale, but I really enjoyed this book -- and think it should be read with Dara Horn's A Guide to the Perplexed because it fills out some of the h..."

Joan, this is great. Love the comments from you on the book.
You have the insight about info not included in Horn's book which I didn't recognize until you just gave it the attention.
I also, love the concept of geniza, and information learned.
So I ask.....
What book will be your next read?
I'm always curious about the "what's next " .
It seems to be a pattern with me when finishing books like this, I become addicted to the topic -or genre, if you will - reading similar authors.
//


Jonathan | 184 comments Agree the two books together really complement each other. In Watchman you see Schechter through the lens of the two sisters. In Guide you get more of a biography of Schechter and how he views the Twins. Both books are admirable because these bring to light the great contributions that Agatha Lewis and Margaret Gibson gave to society. All while they had to navigate the mine field of being women and having to find a man to present their discoveries.


Stacey B | 1048 comments Mod
Jonathan wrote: "Agree the two books together really complement each other. In Watchman you see Schechter through the lens of the two sisters. In Guide you get more of a biography of Schechter and how he views the ..."

Wonderful comparison Jonathan.


Jonathan | 184 comments Thanks Stacey.


message 21: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
You all have made me feel like rereading Horn's Guide. But I think I got that one from the library or else have given it away. I'm thinking the two books complement each other and that Joan's insight is true the other way around as well.


message 22: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Back to Hasidic tales: I realized my ignorance when reading Adam Kirsch's The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature the other night. He has a chapter on Hasidic tales near the end, focusing on the tales of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. As described, some of those are as convoluted as Lukas' "two brothers."


Brina | 99 comments Starting now. Short enough. Hope to finish before Thanksgiving so I can squeeze some more books in this month. Thanks for alerting me to this Jan.


message 24: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Brina wrote: "Starting now. Short enough. Hope to finish before Thanksgiving so I can squeeze some more books in this month. Thanks for alerting me to this Jan."

You're welcome, Brina. Hope you enjoy, & I look forward to your thoughts.


Brina | 99 comments I’ve read the first two chapters. Usually with a new to me author I’m not drawn in right away but this time I was. If I didn’t have to work today, I’d probably read the whole thing. Great choice.


message 26: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
I was, too. Nice when a book just pulls you along!


Brina | 99 comments At this point story better than writing. I think that’s why it’s a faster read. Not that I’m complaining. I’m in need of easier reads this year.


message 28: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Brina wrote: "At this point story better than writing. I think that’s why it’s a faster read. Not that I’m complaining. I’m in need of easier reads this year."

Yes, I agree. It went down easy. We can call it good medicine.


Brina | 99 comments I ended up subbing today and again tomorrow. I usually read a distinctly American book on thanksgiving but this will suffice. At least it’s easy reading. Perfect for a lazy day at home.


Brina | 99 comments Finished. Writing wasn’t the greatest. Story compelling enough to read through. The story arc with the women didn’t really work for me. The writing there was forced because it seemed like the author didn’t have enough info about the watchmen in the other two storylines to fill the whole book. Still, entertaining enough for me. I look forward to the next selections.


message 31: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Brina wrote: "Finished. Writing wasn’t the greatest. Story compelling enough to read through. The story arc with the women didn’t really work for me. The writing there was forced because it seemed like the autho..."

Kind of similar to my reaction, Brina. Enjoyable but suffers from some of the issues that people complain about with historical fiction.

Let me ask you one of the questions that's been bothering me: have you ever heard of that "two brothers" story? Or is it fictional?


Brina | 99 comments The only two brothers story I’ve heard is about ownership of a farm. I saw it on Shalom Sesame years ago with my kids. This particular two brothers story, I had not heard of before. I do like the message of redemption.


Brina | 99 comments Actually, the historical fiction did not bother me. I know about Solomon Schechter schools. They are big in the Chicago suburbs. What bothered me was the character development in that section. I’m wondering if the Al-Raqb family is similar to Lukas’ family history. It became easy for him to write both the modern day section and the one about Ali, if these are stories he grew up hearing. The sisters and Dr Schechter were real people but Lukas did not know them. The women , while the treatment of them was typical for that era, the one-dimensional characterization of them bothered me and their storyline almost made me abandon the book, or at least gloss over those sections.


message 34: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
When I gripe about historical fiction, I'm speaking of characters who have the same mentality as we do, nowadays. But with this book I was thinking about people having 21st century attitudes as to relationships with people of other "tribes" or to other "lifestyles," in other words, modern liberal attitudes.

I don't care if it's fiction. I just didn't want it to pretending to represent actual traditions if it was fiction. Because of the confusion I don't feel inclined to give the book away to anyone I know even if it's an enjoyable read. So back to the Little Free Library -- although as soon as I give away a book, something comes up! 😜

I thought the treatment of the sisters was creative albeit probably fictional, as you implied, I think, Brina. But Solomon Schechter was transformed into a paper cutout. I liked what Dara Horn did with his character much better. Although as others have remarked she has some flaws as a novelist, she makes me think and learn.


Brina | 99 comments Finally got around to posting my review. Much deserved shout out to Stacey and Jan!

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 36: by Lori (new)

Lori Kaufmann | 36 comments I totally agree with you Jan about historical characters taking on modern attitudes. I'm finding this happens a lot now with all the pressure to be "politically correct" and "woke". Authors want to make their characters sympathetic to readers today but it often rings false.


message 37: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Lori wrote: "I totally agree with you Jan about historical characters taking on modern attitudes. I'm finding this happens a lot now with all the pressure to be "politically correct" and "woke". Authors want to..."

Yep, a lot of historical novels are fun but the really good ones are rare. I mean when the way the characters see things make you know they're living in a different world.

I see that the author Michael David Lukas is featured in the new Paper Brigade, from the Jewish Book Council -- a beautiful and creative publication and I'm collecting them. But sometimes can't tell when an outlet features an author because he's good and when it's because he's successful!


Stacey B | 1048 comments Mod
Jan wrote: "Lori wrote: "I totally agree with you Jan about historical characters taking on modern attitudes. I'm finding this happens a lot now with all the pressure to be "politically correct" and "woke". Au..."


Jan, what are you collecting?
An opinion in response to your comment re "successfulI or political"-I will guess that many of them are sponsored by the authors.


message 39: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Stacey wrote: "Jan, what are you collecting? ... "

You know, the Paper Brigade put out by the Jewish Book Council. An inspired idea: instead of multiple collections of available books presented in cheap paper catalogs, these beautiful annual volumes with excerpts, author interviews and the list of awards. I love them!



message 40: by Shelley (new) - added it

Shelley | 81 comments Jan wrote: "Lori wrote: "I totally agree with you Jan about historical characters taking on modern attitudes. I'm finding this happens a lot now with all the pressure to be "politically correct" and "woke". Au..."

that is why respect Robert Harris, the author of An officer and a Spy. He doesn't sacrifice authenticity by telling his story in novel form. I actually "fact checked" the above book before using it for my book club and it passed for accuracy on everything. Of course historical novels have to create conversations, etc. but so many get lost in the "novel" part and lose the history part


Stacey B | 1048 comments Mod
Shelley wrote: "Jan wrote: "Lori wrote: "I totally agree with you Jan about historical characters taking on modern attitudes. I'm finding this happens a lot now with all the pressure to be "politically correct" an..."
Shelly- that was a great book.
Glad to see you here.


message 42: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
Sometimes, though, a book can be good on the history but still mediocre as literature -- although still fun! Thinking of The First Mrs. Rothschild, which I recently read.


message 43: by Lori (new)

Lori Kaufmann | 36 comments Jan wrote: "Sometimes, though, a book can be good on the history but still mediocre as literature -- although still fun! Thinking of The First Mrs. Rothschild, which I recently read."
i agree Jan, it's hard to get the balance of fact and fiction right!


message 44: by Irene (new)

Irene Francis | 25 comments I am about 80 pages into the book and I am really enjoying it. I can't vouch for historic accuracy. It reads easily and I like the characters. Just the type of book I was looking for right now.


message 45: by Lori (new)

Lori Kaufmann | 36 comments Lori wrote: "Jan wrote: "Sometimes, though, a book can be good on the history but still mediocre as literature -- although still fun! Thinking of The First Mrs. Rothschild, which I recently read."
i agree Jan, ..."

I'm also wondering about the historic accuracy Irene. When I read historical fiction, I always like to know where the line is between fact and fiction.


message 46: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan Rice | 1648 comments Mod
I'm glad it's hitting the spot, Irene!

The very broad background is accurate and the two ladies and Solomon Schechter are real historical figures, but probably are given an imaginative touch. I had questions about the relationships of the ethnic groups. Our own relatively liberal point of view about such things affects a lot of historical fiction! But better that than mean or hateful! The author is being celebrated by the Jewish Book Council, though; may have something to do with his popularity. I enjoyed the read but didn't pass the book on to a friend or loved one just because of the reasons we're discussing: they would think I'm telling them this is how it was. It will go in my Little Free Library before too long.


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