Dr Zummoroda Abdel-Malek spent over ten years in the USA until the end of 1950s, where she obtained her PhD in literature from the University of New England. Before leaving for the USA, she had married a wealthy man who owned many farms in the Egyptian countryside. The husband, however, was elderly and did not live long after she gave birth to their son Daniel and had decided to return to Egypt for good, due to the political changes of the revolution and the beginning of the socialist era.
She did not pay any attention to the warnings she received from members of her family, who did not want her to go back to Cairo. Shortly after her arrival to Cairo, her properties and land were sequestered by the government. She was living in her country house, mentally locked in her memories in America which revealed to her that she had had a special relation with Saint Demiana since her childhood. She used to go to the monastery to look out the icons of this saint who is respected by both Christians and Muslims in Egypt. Saint Demiana had been persecuted and tortured to death in the era of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Zummorida had another special relation with Emily Dickinson, the American poet. Saint Demiana and Emily Dickinson are the corner-stone of Zummoroda’s life in this novel.
She experienced a strong emotional conflict because of her secret love for the Muslim officer, Karim, who was the government official responsible for her sequestered property. Although the love affair did not last long, because she ended it, it was the reason why her son Daniel insisted on returning to the USA; Zummoroda remains alone with neither lover nor son and has to face up to the fact that she will shortly die, as she has leukaemia.
She spends her last days moving between her flat in Cairo and her country house, which is close to the monastery of Saint Demiana, accompanied by her old nanny, Tafeeda, who has taken care of her since she was a child. This woman was the last companion Zummoroda had in her search for meaning in her life through writing her memoirs in seeking salvation. However, in her last wish, Zummoroda asked her nanny to destroy these memoirs she had written in the past few years through burning them inside the monastery of Saint Demiana.
The author, Badr el-Deeb, writes poetically with expressions that move the feelings of the reader and remain in the memory. His comprehensive and detailed description of the characters’ lives touches on all sides of human life. The Papers of Zummoroda Ayyoub deserves to be regarded as one of the most distinguished novels written in the past decade.