East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A Café on the Nile


Now there’s some people we trust instinctively, on some matters.
For instance, if Jim Cornelius over at Frontier Partisans suggests a book, I go and check it out, and put it on my wishlist.
Because, instinct. And trust.
That’s exactly what I did when Jim mentioned Bartle Bull’s A Café on the Nile: the book sounded intriguing, the cover was gorgeous, and I checked out on Amazon and found a very used copy for about a buck.
And it was the best investment of a buck this years.
So I thought I’ll tell you about it…

cafe-nileA Café on the Nile is the second book in a trilogy set in the last days of colonial Africa, between the two world wars. The book travels the same roads of greats like Hemingway and Blixen, but it’s the work of a young author with a solid knowledge of Africa.
It’s beautifully written, it has a huge cast of incredible characters, and it’s worth every minute spent reading it.

I’ve already caught a copy of the sequel, The Devil’s Oasis and I’m trying to track down a cheap copy of the first book in the series, White Rhino Hotel1.

One of the things I greatly appreciated in A Café on the Nile – but mind you, I loved every bit of this novel – is the fact that it takes place during the Italian campaign in Abyssinia – that is the Ethiopian Empire.
This is an episode of my country’s history that’s not widely known hereabouts, basically because it goes against the italiani brava gente (literally, Italians, good folk) that’s been pushed in the post-war years to try and whitewash the bits of horror and brutality that we perpetrated during the 20 years of Fascist Regime.
Case in point: in Abyssinia, in 1935, we used nerve gas against the native troops and the civilians, in open disregard of the Geneva Convention. And we bombed villages.
Good folks my foot.


And it gets even better than that.
Because the Abyssinian campaign of ’35 was pumped up with a lot of patriotic sentiment about the re-taking of our rebel protectorate, that we had “lost” in 1896.

But here the story gets weird – because it’s true that in 1896 the Italians were completely smashed by the Ethiopian forces, the most catastrophic defeat of a western power by a third world nation. But the crazy bit is, the war had started back then because Italy was claiming protectorate rights over Abyssinia.
But the protectorate rights were mentioned only in the Italian language version of the treaty between the two countries. The fact that the Ethiopians had not been informed about the fact that they were signing off their political independence is still explained today as a translation error.
Because con trick is a bad word.


Bartle Bull’s sometimes brutal portrayal of warfare in Abyssinia is one of the many elements of interest in A Café on the Nile.
If you like historical novels, action, adventure or simply good writing, you should check it out.

  1. right now I’m totally broke, but still I’d like to get a copy in the same edition as the other two. Book lovers are a strange breed. I’m also looking for a cheap copy of Bull’s book about the golden age of the safari. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “A Café on the Nile

  1. Mr. Mana, here in Spain we gassed villages of northern Morocco too. It’s the nasty and true face of imperialism. And we suffer a shameful defeat like Adwa, the desastre de Annual.


    • Call me Dave 😉
      And yes, colonialism was never a gentleman’s game, and in the 20th century its nasty tail caused a lot of grief. At least we can learn from such horrors.


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