This is my "serious" novel for this trip (still have two decently thick fantasies for my homeward journey). It is the first in Nobel Prize winner Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy, and tells the story of a family in the city during and immediately after the first world war.
The setting and personalities are vividly portrayed, and actually that is the problem with the book - the central character, Ahmad, is such a convincingly unpleasant tyrant to his wife and family that it is rather difficult to read. You rather hope that the book will be some kind of spiritual journey for him ending with either the disastrous consequences of his behaviour or else a firm resolve to be a better human being (or indeed both) but he finishes the story just as unpleasant as he was at the start, despite the marriages, divorces and deaths happening to the other characters. (Having said that, there is a dramatic denouement at the very end, but we don't get more than Ahmad's immediate reaction to it.) If anything, the sympathies of the author seem to be with him - when his wife disobeys him and goes out of the house for the first time in twenty-five years (having married him at the age of 13) she is injured in a car accident, thrown out of the house and has to grovel to be allowed back. Of course, one should not forget that in terms of public and private devotion and sexual repression, Ireland was heading that way under de Valera and McQuaid, and parts of the Bible Belt may be there now.
But the portrayal of an Arab society by an Arab writer, writing on his own terms, was very interesting to me. Also amusing to find the Australians, of all people, filling the role of nebulous off-stage villain for the first part of the book.
Top UnSuggestion for this book: Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey.