Sunday, June 13, 2010

THE MISTRESS OF NOTHING by Kate Pullinger (2009)

With tony literary friends including George Meredith and Alfred Tennyson, translator Lady Lucie Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London. After a collapse at the dinner table one evening, her doctor insists that she set sail for warmer and drier climes in Egypt where there is some hope that her tuberculosis may be treated. Lady Duff Gordon must leave her husband and children behind in England and is accompanied by her longtime faithful and devoted maid Sally first to Alexandria and then down the Nile to Luxor.

In Luxor, Lady Lucie adopts native dress and throws herself into the cultural wonder that is Egypt by embracing Arabic lessons, trying foreign menus and journeying to the famous ruins. Aided in her transition to this life by her dragoman Omar, Lady Duff Gordon writes enraptured letters home daily to her family, and those letters are published as a book, a boon that helps to finance her stay in Egypt.

MISTRESS OF NOTHING is told from Sally Naldrett's wide-eyed perspective as she experiences a whole new world in service to her Lady Lucie. In Egypt, Sally's apparent freedoms are ones she can ill afford in her position and her opening gambit that "the truth is that, to her, I was not fully human," is not only heartbreaking but true.

Partially based on the actual Letters from Egypt by Lady Duff Gordon (in print since their original publication in 1865) MISTRESS OF NOTHING is a novel that will transport you to 19th century Egypt's sights, sounds and smells so convincingly that you'll feel you've taken the journey yourself.

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