The grandfather separates from his life in Switzerland, his wife gets a divorce and lives with their little son in Switzerland, while Heinrich marries a Greek girl in the city of Kafr Eldawar and has five children with her in Egypt. The journey of the grandfather ends without realizing the dream of wealth, he goes back to become a priest, this time in Alexandria, as if destiny is opposing him, as if he cannot escape from his fate although he had the honor of the attempt and the adventure.
The journey of the grandson/narrator takes him to Egypt. He investigates every little information. Every time he visits a place he evokes his grandfather, he even evokes him in the of the 1990s. The grandson goes to the cemeteries of the Swiss community in Egypt, to the archives, to the geological museum, and the post museum. He investigates what is left from his grandfather’s traces in Suez and Ismailiyya, and in Zaqaziq, Tanta and Kafr Elsheikh. He ends up in Alexandria. It is a parallel journey where the grandson has the help of little information, and where he discovers many lies that were transmitted to him in relation to his grandfather’s history. Of this history and life remains a portrait of the grandfather made in Paris by a Swiss artist who later became a celebrity.
The novel is distinguished by many details of an intimate nature. The narrator relies on the registers and archives, he searches in order to re-write his family history. There are several ironic touches by the narrator, as if he is doubting the official history on the level of the personal story, or even on the general national level. Maybe one valid criticism of the novel is that it does not tell us enough about the grandson/narrator, while we know every smallest detail about the grandfather. We also notice that the view of the Egyptian society is touristic and superficial, and without depth, whether in the time of the grandfather or the time of the grandson’s visit to the Egyptian cities. Yes, the experience remains important, and the idea intelligent. The place seems alive and vibrant with movement and color, the transitions between Egypt and Switzerland are done in a fine and fluid way.
The Egyptian Heinrich is a novel that carries a lot of nostalgia for times and places, it basically contains the idea of searching for a true history, not a fake one. It is a novel that glorifies the adventure and journey of seeking oneself despite any consequences. I was not disturbed by the many critiques of the narrator towards the negative aspects of the Egyptian life, we -Egyptians- also do criticize them, but I was disturbed by several huge grammatical and printing mistakes that destroyed my pleasure in reading. I hope a new and better edition with more precision and revision -than that of 2010 – would be published, because the novel is important and it deserves to be translated in the same level of its original writing.