Thursday 29 August 2013
I was invited to take tea with Mrs Mubarak at her husband’s palace in Cairo, just before the Arab Spring broke through and brought hope to a city darkened by storm clouds of popular resentment. Inside the palace Mrs Mubarak, who is half Welsh half Egyptian, was a gracious hostess. White coated waiters dispensed cakes, which she assured me were home-made. The tranquillity inside the gilded salon was reminiscent of our own Queen’s garden tea parties – where they also provide excellent cakes – completely insulated from the boiling stew of hatred festering in the hot, overpopulated streets outside the heavily guarded walls. It was that contrast, which I had experienced in similar palaces all over the world, that made me start writing “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”. The initially peaceful revolutions that erupted at the beginning of 2011 seemed to promise something wonderful for the world, but it proved to be as brief a moment of optimism as the hippy “Summer of love” in 1969. Now Egypt is plunging back into the familiar cycle of violence and hatred and it is like nothing has changed, except that someone new is no doubt now taking tea in Mrs Mubarak’s elegant palace quarters. “Secrets of the Italian Gardener” is now up on Amazon and Kindle. When he first read it my agent told me it was, “a contemporary re-casting of Ecclesiastes, a story about the vanity associated with the desire for power and possessions and ultimately about the cycle of birth, growth, death and re-birth". As we see another President dragged from power and more corpses piling up in the streets it does seem we are indeed all trapped in an endless cycle.