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Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo—magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough’s Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.


Keiko heard drilling upstairs. She also heard banging early in the morning. The maid next door was beating carpets. When she asked the bawab, the porter of the building, about her neighbor’s maid, he told her that the maid did not come every day. Besides the drilling, the beating of carpets, the knocking of the water in the pipes in the building, she could hear the man who lived between the buildings, clearing the mucus from his throat, and the wailing of his wife when he beat her. The people upstairs also wore hard shoes, which made a clacking sound when they walked across the floor.

The bawab insisted no one lived upstairs.

She was sure that she heard drilling and the clacking of shoes. How could she concentrate on Arabic grammar with so much noise? She had a difficult time imagining herself teaching Arabic to Japanese businessmen in Tokyo. It seemed too late to quit the course now, though. The earplugs she bought at the pharmacy did not muffle the noise.

Late at night, she also heard cats meowing and raucous laughter from above. Did the people who clomped across the floor own cats?

She called the Egyptian landlord, a doctor who was teaching in America. No, he said, no one lived in the flat upstairs, although the flat belonged to his cousin. It was the only flat in the building which was not rented.

“Aaah so, but does your cousin let anyone else have the key?”

Like the bawab, the landlord insisted that no one lived in the flat. Keiko complained so much about the drilling that her foreign neighbors concluded that she must be crazy. Maybe she should go back to Japan. Maybe she had been in Egypt too long. Maybe she needed psychological help. Her neighbor across the hall had even given her the number to the counseling service. For her kindness, Keiko had given the woman a small summer bell to ward off evil spirits.

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and was awarded a teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-1999. Her stories, essays and reviews have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, Story South, Guernica, The Common, The Millions, and the LA Review of Books. Translations in English and Arabic have been published in: Nizwa, Banipal, Brooklyn Rail in Translation, World Literature Today and Washington Square Review with Mohamed Metwalli. Her bi-lingual book of short stories in English and Arabic, Three Stories From Cairo, translated with Mohamed Metwalli, was published in July 2011 by AFAQ Publishing House, Cairo. A collection of short stories about expatriate life in Cairo, Shahrazad’s Tooth, was also published by AFAQ in 2013. Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.


 American University Faculty Webpage

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    4 replies to "SHAHRAZAD’S GIFT"

    • Kristine Anne Hall

      I love short stories, and I loved visiting Cairo, so I cannot wait to read this book! (Have read the first story already and had to push myself to set the book down.) Thanks for sharing!

      • RoxBurkey

        Wow, I had no idea you’d been to Cairo. When are you writing your book about that trip. Thank you for stopping in.

        • Thanks for sharing on your blog!

          • RoxBurkey

            Looks like another fun story collection, Gretchen. Thank you for writing it.

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