This adventure takes place during the construction of the Suez Canal, a rich juncture of commerce, culture, empire and intrigue. I have tried to use the powerful mechanics of that process and the underlying cultural forces of that time and place not in the background, as settings, but in the foreground, as critical elements in the plot and theme of the story.
By the mid 19th century, French financiers wanted to invest millions of francs into a canal that would connect the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans. It was an ancient dream, and the decision was made that modern technology could accomplish it. At the same time, the American Civil War had disrupted the production of American cotton, tripling the prices for Egyptian cotton. Thinking this high tied would last forever, the Egyptian rulers used the canal as a platform to launch a broad and incredibly expensive modernization of all things Egyptian – railroads, schools, military, government bureaus, agriculture, and culture (commissioning the new opera, ‘Aida’). It proved to be a fateful bet, one that Egypt ultimately lost.
On this page you will find some background on this fascinating age, an age which has many specific lessons for us today.
You will also find here a gallery of “Orientalist” paintings from this period, artwork which captures some of the fascination, wild romanticization, and misunderstanding which marked westerners’ views of the East.
The canal survives as a fulfillment of the prophecy of dissension
and foreign intrigue, foretold to Pharaoh Necho more than six hundred years
before Joseph and Mary fled with the child Jesus across its future course
from Judea into Egypt … its reputation simmers in perpetually changing mists
of intrigue, distrust and strife.
— John Pudney, Suez