Running a bookshop is generally not a thrilling enterprise. However, in Chronicles of a Cairo bookseller, Egyptian author Nadia Wassef has pulled off a charming combination of memoir, business basics, historical and socio-political survey of Egypt from her bookshelf aisles.
Diwan was the first ever modern bookshop in Cairo, started in 2002 by the spirited 27-year-old Wassef, her private and fiercely loyal sister Hind, and their spiritually inclined friend, Nihal.
At a time when book writing, publishing, printing and retailing were weighed down by decades of state failure and political censorship, many wondered why any sane person would “invest money in the losing venture of bookselling.” As book-loving bourgeois housewives with no business experience, the three did not need a shop to sustain themselves.
Wassef and her partners defy the odds to pioneer a new way of bookselling and invigorate the reading culture. Diwan means a meeting place, a guest house, a collection of poetry or a sofa. The name was coined at a restaurant lunch by their mother who was uninspired by their ideas for a shop name and eager to return to her meal.