Presskit for Cleopatra's Wedding Present

Editor's statement | Reviews | Author's photo | Author's bio | Cover image | Images from the book | Sales restrictions and distribution


Cleopatra's Wedding Present
Travels through Syria
Robert Tewdwr Moss
New introduction by Lucretia Stewart

Living Out, Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies
Joan Larkin and David Bergman, Series Editors

Editor's Statement

"In my career as an Acquisitions Editor I have never been as excited about any book as this one—Robert Tewdwr Moss's Cleopatra's Wedding Present: Travels through Syria.

The book was originally published in the U.K., to little fanfare. Though the British reviews were rapturous the U.S. rights were never sold and the book is unknown in the States, except to a few dedicated readers who picked up the English edition.

What makes the book so remarkable? Several things:

Moss was murdered in 1996 (ironically not in Syria but after returning home to London) soon after finishing the book, and in fact Moss's computer containing the final draft of the MS was taken by the two boys who killed him, and the final edits were never recovered. The result is something of a literary detective story. Moss's British agent and editors pieced together the final draft using their own various versions of the manuscript. Meanwhile the trial and sentencing of Moss's killers—one of whom was a young adult he had mentored—became tabloid fodder in England, so the book, before it was ever published, was wrapped up in a mystery and story all its own.

Though ultimately assembled from earlier drafts, the book reads seamlessly, and is simply an undiscovered classic of modern travel writing. It is also the only book by one of our best young English writers. Murdered when he was only 35, Moss had already worked as a literary editor on the London Sunday Times, and contributed to a wide range of British magazines, from Tatler to Harper's and Queen. Cleopatra is the culmination of his precocious apprenticeship and what the book reveals is another Bruce Chatwin with a few major differences. Moss was honest about his homosexuality, ruthlessly direct in his writing, and capable of not just wit but real humor. What he left behind, like the best books, is a multi-layered work that constantly upends our expectations: it is equal parts picaresque, travel memoir, high adventure story, Middle East expose, and finally bittersweet romance.

If only one layer of the book is a travel story, that still makes for a complete story. In fact there are very few contemporary books that so clearly evoke the tragic history and muddled reality of the Middle East. Working his way through every strata of Syrian society, befriending every class and ethnic group, Moss offers a collective portrait that takes in everyone from Jews to Palestinians and presents the ethnic cleansings that shaped Syria and the surrounding countries. When Moss travels out into the desert to dig up the graves of a relatively recent ethnic massacre he becomes not just a fearless journalist, but a steadfast witness.

Ultimately, though, Moss weaves together the public and personal, and the book finally becomes a poignant, bittersweet romance focused on a Palestinian refugee whom the writer only slowly comes to realize is the anchor, and the soul, of his odyssey.

The result isn't just a book for gay readers, travel fans, and anyone interested in the Middle East. Ultimately it's the kind of book that is essential for readers still interested in real writers with real voices."

—Raphael Kadushin, Humanities Editor, UW Press

Reviews of the University of Wisconsin Press edition:

"This is a better book than it ought to be. The book really does entertain on several levels and leaves the reader thoughtful. This is an achievement in an overcrowded, overfamiliar genre." —Lawrence E. Butler, LAMBDA BOOK REPORT, December 2003, Washington DC

"As Moss weaves his narrative into the sights and sometime vile surroundings, we get a wonderful tour of a shrouded country and its labyrinthine societal rules. It's an authentic peek behind the curtain—replete with plenty of Moss's tours of sprawling ancient sites (complete with black and white photos) and a parade of colorful characters he meets along his travels." —TORSO, September 2004, Atlanta, GA

"But Moss's writing also gives us a look behind the curtain, as it were, at the people we do not see on the daily news. And ultimately, his travelogue becomes a reflection on human relationships, and how they are impacted by the world's events." —ECHO MAGAZINE, November 20, 2003, Phoenix AZ

"Intimate, loose-jointed, unpretentious, and idiosyncratic, 'Cleopatra's Wedding Present' —whose title, by the way, alludes to the fact that Syria was part of Mark Antony's matrimonial gift — is a debut performance so fine one winces to think it's also valedictory." —Ben Downing, NEW YORK SUN, December 29, 2003 New York, NY

"The openly gay Tewdwr Moss's sexual friendships provide windows into a part of the world that seems stubbornly unyielding to the gaze of more Westerners." ­ Bruce Shenitz, OUT September 2003, New York, NY

"'Cleopatra's Wedding Present' is a moving testament to the rewards of crossing borders ­ national, political, religious and cultural ­ and the work itself beautifully transcends boundaries. It is about more than being a gay man in a foreign land. It is about being human in a landscape ravaged by history, a dilemma that, increasingly, we are all facing even if we never leave home." ­ Rita Mae Reese, THE CAPITAL TIMES, November 7, 2003 Madison, WI

" 'Cleopatra's Wedding Present' is that unusual book that captures the reader from the first page as it invites us into a world where most of us have never ventured. This memoir by Robert Tewdwr Moss of his journeys through Syria in the early 90's is both an amazing examination of the social complexities of Islam and a red-hot revelation of the erotics of one man's travels when he really allowed himself to be changed by a place." ­ Tim Miller, BETWEEN THE LINES, November 20, 2003, Farmington, MI

Reviews of the Duckworth edition:

"A gripping, hard-edged, and highly entertaining travelogue, borne up by a journalist's eye for stories and a traveller's love of the random experience." —Independent on Sunday (UK)

"This is one of those rare books that pounces upon you and chivvies you into a state of proselytising enthusiasm. It is much more than a travel book about Syria, although as such it is marvellous."—Daily Telegraph (UK)

"Tewdwr Moss's intense, evocative account of his travels through Syria is a perfect book of its kind. Its author demonstrates intelligence, curiosity, humour, compassion, and commendable powers of observation: everything that is required of a travel writer . . . To be a good traveller, and a good travel writer, one must be prepared to go that extra mile, to take physical and emotional risks. Tewdwr Moss was ready to do both—in his traveling and in his writing. It is immensely sad that he will no have another opportunity to do what he was so clearly cut out for."—Lucretia Stewart, Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"Perhaps because he was an outsider, Robert had an enormous capacity for befriending strangers, whether among the ruins of a crusader castle or at a bus stop near his Little Venice flat. Alongside his sharp and funny observations, it is this capacity that enabled him to have the unique experiences that so enrich his book, making it a gem both for his many friends and those who never had the joy of knowing him. Tragically, it was these very qualities of warmth and openness that led him to be murdered in his own drawing room." —Sholto Byrnes, Evening Standard (UK)

"The best travel writers show you more than the sights, and while the late Robert Twedwr Moss's book is a thoroughly inadequate guide to Syria, it is, perversely, a fine piece of travel writing. ... This is not a dutiful or nicely turned examination of a country, but it is a well-informed guide to a larger interior landscape."—James Owen, Literary Review (UK)

"Cleopatra's Wedding Present is stuffed with rich imagery, and the constantly changing variety of people and places on every page reflect the writer's natural delight and curiosity in the mysterious."—Geoffrey Elborn, The Tablet (UK)

"This is a gripping, hard-edged, and highly entertaining travelogue, borne up by a journalist's eye for stories and a traveller's love of the random experience."—Jeremy Atiyah, Independent on Sunday (UK)

"It would be hard to find a more archly entertaining, slyly informative, or poignant travel book than this."—Philip Hoare, Independent (UK)

"A small masterpiece and a delicate work of English whimsy."—Tim Kelsey, The Sunday Times (UK)

"His easy-going attitude and perpetual sense of humour make Moss an endearing travelling companion. They also offer a clue as to how he managed to get into interesting conversations with such a wide range of people in a country where there are eight different levels of secret police."—Richard Hopwood, Yorkshire Post (UK)

"The book's series of entertaining vignettes is testimony not only to the author's literary skills but to his courage, curiosity, and happy knack of befriending anyone he met."—Harry Ritchie, Mail on Sunday (UK)

"This elegant work stands comparison with early Evelyn Waugh."—Christopher Hirst and Emma Hagestadt, Independent (UK)

"A work with the potential to become a cult classic ..."—Andrew Lycett, Observer (UK)

"This is one of those rare books that pounces upon you and chivvies you into a state of proseytising enthusiasm. It is much more than a travel book about Syria, although as such it is marvellous."—Carmen Callil, Daily Telegraph (UK)

Author's bio:
Robert Tewdwr Moss (1961–1996) was a journalist of astonishing versatility. He first made his mark as Diary Editor of the Books section of the London Sunday Times. He also contributed to magazines as varied as Tatler, Women's Journal, Harper's, Queen, and Africa Events. He completed this book on the day he died.


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Back to the regular web page for Cleopatra's Wedding Present

cover of the Moss book shows a young man gazing at the desert
This cover image can be downloaded and used in any web-based publicity for this book. For a 300 dpi version, click here,

photo of author in sleeveless undershirt
Robert Tewdwr Moss

This author photo can be downloaded and used in any web-based publicity for this book. For a 300 dpi version, click here.

Please note, the Wisconsin edition is for sale only in North America and the U.S. dependencies; for all other territories contact Duckworth Press, publisher of the 2001 UK edition.

Images from the book

These photos can be downloaded and used in any web-based publicity for this book. For a 300 dpi version, click on the image, or its caption. Note that these are larger images, and take a while to load.

photo of the citadel at Aleppo, stark, old
Entrance to the citadel at Aleppo.

photo of a dimly lit bazaar in Damascus
The bazaar at Damascus.

badly painted portrait of President Hafez al-Assad hovers over an old Damascus street
The image of President Hafez al-Assad appears everywhere. (photograph by
Ed Kahi.)

A street scene in Damascus.



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