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Forty years old and reeling from the twin tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic, charming, diffident schoolteacher Agnes Shanklin was come into a modest inheritance; enough to allow her to take the trip of a lifetime, to Egypt and the Holy Lane.

But her arrival at Cairo's Semiramis Hotel coincides with an event that will change history. The year is 1921 and here, for a few days, the Cairo Peace Conference will preside over nothing less than the creation of the modern Middle East.

Neither a pawn nor a participant, Agnes becomes a welcome sounding board for the historic players - Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Lady Gertrude Bell among them - poised to invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan and so decide the fate of the Arab world - and of our own. It also makes her unexpectedly attractive to the charismatic German spy Karl Weilbacher. As Agnes observes the tumultuous inner workings of nation-building, she is drawn more and more deeply into geopolitical intrigue and towards a more personal awakening.

As enlightening as it is entertaining, Mary Doria Russell's compelling, passionately felt novel illuminates both the rich history of the Middle East and what lies behinds today's headlines.

Paperback - large format

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  • Seller location: Hamilton, Waikato, NZ

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