It’s Pub Day: 5 Reasons to Read Basma Abdel Aziz’s Terrifying, Hopeful, Dystopic Fantasy ‘The Queue’

It’s publication day for Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue, translated into fluid, persuasive English by Elisabeth Jaquette, and published by Melville House Press:

queue5) This book will be on prize longlists next year. You can already find it mentioned by readers at places as distinct as BookRiot  and Men’s Journal. 

4) Although Abdel Aziz published Al-Taboor (The Queue) in 2013, it is even more relevant today. It is a fantastic dystopia, but, like Nihad Sirees’s The Silence and the Roar, it’s also a very real-world portrait of contemporary Egypt.

When translator Elisabeth Jaquette reviewed the novel for Mada Masr in 2013, she called it “both a chilling parallel to the present and a bleak vision of a possible future.” In many ways, that future has come. Also: My review on Qantara.

3) It’s also an insightful, multilayered dig into the whys of authoritarianism. If you live in any country with an authoritarian-leaning demographic (cough, cough), then it’s an instruction manual. From the NPR Books review:

And that, ultimately, is what makes The Queue such an effective critique of authoritarianism. The familiarity of the narrative, the banality of collective evil, is the most unsettling element. People — for, no matter the euphemism, the force behind Big Brother and the Gate and real-life totalitarian governments is just people — will always find a way to control other people in one way or another, should it suit them.

And from a previous talk between Abdel Aziz and ArabLit’s Rachael Daum:

In all my writing I try to destroy different faces of dictatorship and of totalitarian authority, whether political, social or religious.

2) The examinations of pain, about which Abdel Aziz presumably knows a great deal, as a professional psychiatrist working with torture victims. But the narrative doesn’t sympathize only with the patient, but also with the conflicted doctor, who wants to operate, but also doesn’t want to run afoul of the law. Here, Dr. Tarek has a run-in with authorities, from an excerpt of the novel that ran on Words Without Borders:

Tarek called the head nurse and told her to bring Yehya Gad el-Rab’s file at once. The moment she knocked, the doctor grasped the handle, wrenched the door open, and snatched the file from her, while Tarek stood there, his empty hand outstretched in her direction, where it remained suspended in the air for several seconds. The doctor told her to leave and not to disturb them, and shut the door again. He took a leisurely seat in Tarek’s leather chair, engrossed in the X-ray and ignoring Tarek, who stood rooted in front of the door. The man took everything out of the file and then nodded, satisfied. He carefully removed the X-ray with a single word—“excellent”—and then left the room and disappeared.

1) The most sympathetic, detailed mini-portraits of the lives of contemporary Egyptian women — from a range of different class backgrounds — that you’ll find, perhaps, anywhere. Perhaps that’s why Men’s Journal listed it atop its “8 Best Books of May.” Who knows?

Also, if you’re in NYC:

Basma Abdel Aziz just arrived in your city. Tomorrow, May 25, Abdel Aziz, she’ll be in conversation with Yasmine El Rashidi, also a fantastically talented writer whose debut novel, Chronicle of a Last Summer, will be published in June. Event starts at 6:30 p.m. More details here.

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