cover image The Queue

The Queue

Basma Abdel Aziz, trans. from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. Melville House (PRH, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-61219-516-2

In this allegorical novel from controversial Egyptian journalist Aziz, a failed political uprising leads to the establishment of a totalitarian regime known as the Gate, whose principal means of control is making its subjects wait in an endless line, the titular queue. A young man, Yehya, is shot by riot police during the revolt, an act of violence that the Gate flatly refuses to acknowledge, and much of the novel's story revolves around the unrecognized bullet still lodged in Yehya's gut. The large cast of characters includes Tarek, a conflicted physician; Nagy, Yehya's devoted friend; and Amani, a woman who puts herself at great risk to get Yehya the surgery he desperately needs. At its best, the novel captures a sense of futility and meaninglessness, but its impersonal tone and uneventful middle contribute, at times, to a lack of urgency. This sense is remedied, albeit too quickly, in a strong finale in which Tarek races along the queue to rescue a dying Yehya. Aziz ultimately suggests the worst while leaving the smallest space for hopeful interpretation, a fitting metaphor for Egypt after the Arab Spring. (May)