Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra

Peter Stothard, Author
Peter Stothard. Overlook, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4683-0370-4
Reviewed on: 07/15/2013
Release date: 08/01/2013
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-1-84708-703-4
Paperback - 383 pages - 978-1-4683-0891-4
Hardcover - 383 pages - 978-1-84708-704-1
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A chance trip to Alexandria and a lifelong love affair with Cleopatra coalesce in Times Literary Supplement editor Stothard’s intriguing amalgam of travel memoir and history lesson. What began as a trip to South Africa in 2011 became, due to weather, a journey to an Alexandria on the cusp of the Arab Spring, a place Stothard (Spartacus Road) had long associated with the most famous of ancient Egyptian women. Throughout the years, beginning in his Essex childhood and continuing through his time at Oxford, Stothard attempted seven times to complete his book on Cleopatra, failing each time to capture the essence of the woman who’d stolen his classicist’s heart. Staying in Alexandria’s Metropole Hotel and guided through the city by the at turns effusive and secretive Socratis and Mahmoud, Stothard relates not only his encounters with the remnants of Cleopatra throughout Alexandria but also the origins of his fascination with the Egyptian queen, a passion he shared with his lifelong friend Maurice. He presents each failed version of his book as both a snapshot of a certain period in Cleopatra’s doomed life—from her arrival in Egypt from Greece to her affair with Julius Caesar—and as glimpses into his own history as a schoolboy, classical scholar, and journalist. That a clear picture of Cleopatra does not emerge by the end of Stothard’s Alexandrian sojourn is beside the point; it is his own journey that, intertwined with his queen’s, resonates the most. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Literary. (Aug.)
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