Book Tour and Giveaway

Book Blog Tour banner for Shahrazad's Gift by Gretchen McCullough. April 2-11, 2024. Book cover on the right. Graphic of a woman peeking through a red curtain.

Gretchen McCullough

Contemporary Fiction / Linked Short Stories / Humor
Publisher: Cune Press
Date of Publication: February 20, 2024
Number of Pages: 198 pages 

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Small banner with wordage: Synopsis
Book cover for Shahrazad's Gift.  Graphic of a woman peeking through a red curtain.

Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo—magical, absurd, and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough’s Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.


Small banner with wordage: Excerpt

Excerpt from “Taken Hostage by the Ugly Duck” in
Shahrazad’s Gift by Gretchen McCullough

The day after Hoda was hit in the ear with a rotten egg thrown by her British neighbor, she adopted a blue heron. Complaining to her friends had not been enough, complaining to the landlord and the bawab had not been enough, complaining to her husband had not been enough. She had never suffered such humiliation! She had marched to the Friday bird market and bought the bird with the harshest call. The terrible yawing would surely torment her British neighbor, whom she had nicknamed “The Ugly Duck.” He was a balding man in his late fifties with spindly legs.

When she came home with the enormous bird at three o’clock in the afternoon, her husband, Fahmy, who was still in his pajamas, said, “Don’t you usually pluck your chin hairs on Fridays?”

Hoda was too busy now, watching the Ugly Duck, to waste her time on vanity. She and Fahmy rarely had sex anymore. And when they did, it was a lackluster and cursory affair; he rolled off her quickly and starting picking his teeth.

Every Friday, while she was looking in her hand mirror, plucking her chin hairs, she sneaked a glance behind her at the Ugly Duck in the building opposite hers. On warm days he often strutted nude on his balcony, with a gaggle of young Egyptian men. Where was his wife? Such an unashamed parading of sensuality enraged her. When she had finished watching the Ugly Duck and his entourage, she prayed and recited the Quran in front of the sheikh on the television.

Now, her husband, Fahmy, glared at the blue heron. “Why didn’t you adopt a kitten? There are plenty around the neighborhood,” he said.

“You hate cats,” Hoda said. She had begged him to have a cat for years, but he always refused.

“The heron is going to ruin our gold furniture,” Fahmy said.

“Maybe the bird will turn into a cat.”

“Herons eat fish. This isn’t a very practical pet. Where are we going to keep him? With Amir here, we have hardly any space,” Fahmy complained.

“Amir will have to find another place to live,” Hoda said. “He is thirty-five years old.”

“But Hoda, he’s not married. You’re going to give his room to a bird?”

Hoda was transforming. Internally, she had not changed an inch for years. However, two events had happened to distract her from her persistent delight in matchmaking and speculations about the price of gold: the day her precious Amir had slapped her in the face because he couldn’t watch il-Limbi. Who would marry him? He was a fat lug, who sprawled out on her marital bed, watching television, hour after hour. She and Fahmy had spent thousands of pounds on private lessons to get him through the faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, but he had never gotten a job. Every presentable girl she had brought to the house had left in tears.

But even worse than her son Amir was the Ugly Duck, in the building across the way, who taunted her with his unnatural, lascivious sexuality: the obscene gestures, the hooting, the loud, raucous music. Some singer always whined, “Diggin’ the dancin’ queen.”

Small banner with wordage: About the Author
Author headshot. Smiling woman with short blond hair wearing a green blouse.

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and was awarded a teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-1999. Her stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, Story South, Guernica, The Common, The Millions, and the LA Review of Books. Translations in English and Arabic have been published in: Nizwa, Banipal, Brooklyn Rail in Translation, World Literature Today and Washington Square Review with Mohamed Metwalli.

Her bi-lingual book of short stories in English and Arabic, Three Stories From Cairo, translated with Mohamed Metwalli, was published in July 2011 by AFAQ Publishing House, Cairo. A collection of short stories about expatriate life in Cairo, Shahrazad’s Tooth, was also published by AFAQ in 2013.

Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.

WebsiteGoodreads —-  American University Faculty Webpage



Two winners receive paperbacks
One winner receives the eBook of Shahrazad’s Gift
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 4/12/24)

Giveaway graphic featuring three images of the book cover. Wordage: Two winners get paperbacks. One winner gets an eBook.



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