Mulberry Films has acquired the film rights to Basma Abdel Aziz’s novel The Queue, translated into English by Lissie Jaquette and published this May:
Mulberry Films is calling The Queue a dystopian novel, but in a three-way discussion of the novel with Jaquette, ArabLit’s M. Lynx Qualey, and The New Inquiry’s Aaron Bady, the genre-holing of the novel was discussed.
An excerpt from that conversation, which can be read in full over at The New Inquiry:
Lissie: I’m interested in the point that these books (and The Queue in particular) are not classic failed-utopia dystopias, but just exaggerated versions of reality. In my review for The Queue in Mada Masr, I called it “dystopian realism” and I stand by that. That’s also why I think The Queue is satire, but messes with the definition of satire.
Do we need names for new genres? Do we need to expand the definitions of the genres we have?
MLQ: Basma is surely familiar with “world” literature, butThe Queue comes in an Egyptian Arabic tradition where pure science fiction hasn’t really been an interest. But all sorts of alternate-reality fictions have been. For example, while Nael Eltoukhy’s Women of Karantina is set in the future, he kind of looks at you sideways if you call it “science fiction.” An Egyptian dystopia has a different memory and vocabulary from an American or English dystopia.
A dystopia is a warning about some possible future, but this is not that; if we attend to what is unreal about this novel, we miss so much of what’s real.
Lissie: In Arabic, The Queue is described as “fantasy,” but it’s not what we’d call fantasy in English, at all. I think the English literary world over-enthusiastically classifies literature into genres, and literature coming from other traditions and languages doesn’t fit those neat boxes.
MLQ: Which is great. Arabic disrupts our thinking on Anglophone genre, and vice versa.
Aaron: What about all the references to Orwell and Kafka that we read (and write) in reviews? Genres are useful for framing the questions we ask a text, but it feels like everybody who talks about this novel inevitably references those two figures.
MLQ: Yes, reading it as though it came out of a mid-twentieth-century European literary context causes us to skate over large chunks of it.
Other Mulberry Films productions include The Piano Tuner, adapted from a novel by Daniel Mason, Dromos, an adaptation of Massimo Carlotto’s Respiro Corto, and Purple America, an adaptation of a book by Rick Moody.