In This Review

Street Sounds: Listening to Everyday Life in Modern Egypt
Street Sounds: Listening to Everyday Life in Modern Egypt
By Ziad Fahmy
Stanford University Press, 2020, 312 pp

Everyone who has ever been to Cairo notices the city’s cacophony. This book is the story of that din. Working in the relatively new discipline of sensory history, Fahmy presents a fascinating account of the accumulation of sounds in Egypt. In the late nineteenth century, older notes—the call to prayer issuing from mosques, the slap of sandals on pavements, the clack of dominoes and backgammon tiles on café tables, the yelling of peddlers hawking their wares—began to jostle with the noises of mechanical and electrified devices. Readers may be put off by the academic jargon (the author urges the abandonment of an “ocularcentric” view of the world), but wonderfully evocative descriptions and anecdotes leaven the book. Donkey carts clank, and bicycles whistle; loud jubilation and anguish mark weddings and funerals. The advent of electricity extended social hours and gave rise to a raucous nightlife that still spills onto the streets of Cairo. Radios and televisions would eventually blare from open windows and sidewalk cafés, as railway and tram whistles pierced the air. Finally, the flourish of the ubiquitous car horn punctuates the commotion, perfecting what residents know as “the Cairo Opera.”