Cover of the Girl from Cairo

The Girl from Cairo is a memoir covering Peggy Hinaekian’s early life in Cairo, Montreal, Boston and Manhattan, from 1940 to 1960.

It is a riveting story of an Armenian girl born and raised in Egypt, her trials and tribulations, her anxieties and desires. She describes her life in Cairo through WWII and two Middle Eastern wars that brought uncertainty and insecurity to her cushy life.

Her father having worked with the U.S. Army during WWII, Peggy was accustomed to meeting Americans and reading American comics and magazines as a child. American movies were the biggest entertainment of the family and this ignited a desire in her to go to the U.S.   She focuses wholeheartedly on this venture and strives to make it happen.

In her boy-crazy youth, she yearns for a fairy tale life of marrying the man of her dreams. She finally meets K — as he is called in the Memoir — her first boyfriend, and they plan to get married against his parents’ will, who think he is too young, only nineteen, and she eighteen.

They finally get married and go to the U.S. as university students with no financial means of support as that was the only way out of Egypt. Their future is nebulous but they are both young, naive and full of dreams.

Married life has its ups and downs. Peggy is restless. She has confused feelings about marriage. She falls out of love with her husband and looks at other pastures.

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How does a young woman from Egypt, where working women were looked down upon, avoid becoming a hausfrau, dependent on a man for her support?

This is the story of a young rebel, trapped in age-old cultural stereotypes, who escaped the life planned for her. The story of a young woman creating her own world and achieving an impossible dream.

Peggy Hinaekian was born and raised in Cairo. She owes her love of books to her paternal grandfather who owned the largest private library in Egypt and she was introduced to books in three languages (English, French and Armenian) at a very young age. Peggy grew up in a cosmopolitan environment and was an avid reader and kept a diary since age twelve.

Her first book, an erotic romance novel — Of Julia and Men — appeared in the New York Times Book Review Magazine. Peggy designed the cover illustration and the 26 interior images.

Peggy is also an internationally recognized artist and lives and works in the United States and Switzerland where she exhibits her paintings regularly.

In 2020, Peggy’s life as an author and as an artist was featured on “Living Your Dreams” (Mara Brown) airing on Los Angeles TV. During that same year, she won an award from The Writer’s Workshop in Asheville, N.C. for a 5000-word memoir, describing her life in Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s.

“For many of us in the disconnected 21st century, it is time to speak about our heritage. This memoir creates a whole world bridging memory and narrative. It has a sense of longevity, no so much in the number of years, but with the depth and range of felt experiences. The writer is an artist who brings to the page an astute eye for the meaning of belonging and identity as she shifts between her many selves. There’s a real sense of looking at people in the Middle Eastern world through the lens of her mixed ethnicity —Egyptian, British, Armenian. The sense of tension with her characters, particularly her roguish, bon-vivant father, who gambled away the family fortune, and her strong-willed, fashionable but secretive mother ever vigilant about neighbors gossiping as they lived in gentile poverty. Nevertheless, she maintained a sense of normalcy while railing in her “headstrong” daughter.

“The memoir finds humor in dark places like a childhood spent in trauma, cowering from overhead bombing raids during WWII, telling how entire families were able to find resilience to survive constant danger. Following WWII, Peggy’s fascination with American GIs stationed in Cairo sets her off on a life path. When the Suez Canal political upheaval after “Black Saturday” happens, it catapults her to leave Egypt.

“The author’s coming of age story is composed of her education in a Catholic Girls’ School, her sexual awakening, her first love, and her childhood daydreams of becoming a film star or a fashion designer that sets her on a journey through several countries: Canada, Switzerland and the US. The narrative plays on the reader’s question of ‘what’s next?’ as the writer weaves her family story with compassion, finding inspiration in the ‘showing’ of ordinary people living their lives against an exotic and, often, foreign backdrop.”

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