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The Mistress of Nothing    by Kate Pullinger order for
Mistress of Nothing
by Kate Pullinger
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Based on the true story of the travels of Lucie Duff Gordon and her maid Sally Naldrett to Egypt, this short novel luminously portrays the situation in that country in the late 19th century. Lady Duff Gordon was herself a popular writer. Her Letters from Egypt was a bestseller then and is still in print. But Kate Pullinger writes her novel from Sally's point of view, which puts a different spin on things.

Sally is well experienced as a lady's maid. She is forthright and adaptable, qualities that make her invaluable to Lady Duff Gordon, since the lady is a victim of tuberculosis. That is the reason for the trip to Egypt. Lady Duff Gordon leaves behind her husband and children, taking only her maid. The illness and treatment available at that time are depicted very realistically. Once the pair gets to Egypt, they are welcomed by the British community and helped. Especially important is the Egyptian servant and guide, whom Lady Duff Gordon employs as she travels away from Cairo up the Nile to a new life in Luxor.

Because Lady Duff Gordon is interested in people and politics, we learn about the situation in Egypt through the eyes of the British, the leading Egyptian thinkers, and just regular every-day folks. We see how the leaders conscript village men, leaving the women behind to either do all the heavy work or watch their lives crumble. But we also learn what generous hosts they are as well as how they survive in the hottest of weather. Writing from Sally' point of view presents some problems at times, but it is not enough to interrupt a very interesting story about courageous women, at a time and in a place where their sex had little power and was not much respected.

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