cover image Cairo Circles

Cairo Circles

Doma Mahmoud. Unnamed, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-951213-36-7

Mahmoud’s uneven debut explores the discrepancies of class and wealth in modern Cairo and the Egyptian diaspora through multiple strands of plot that jump back and forth in time and merge only tangentially. In mid-2000s New York City, wealthy Sheero, an undergraduate at NYU, is gleefully breaking every Muslim law in the book, doing lines of cocaine daily and living with his girlfriend, Carmen, a non-Muslim. Then his cousin Amir sets off a suicide bombing in the city’s subway, killing several other people and leading the FBI to question Sheero. Mahmoud then shifts to Cairo several years earlier for a story involving Sheero’s friend Taymour, whose housemaid’s 11-year-old daughter, Zeina, vanishes, possibly kidnapped. As Zeina’s younger twin brothers, Omar and Mustafa, grow up, their lives diverge, with Omar becoming a drug dealer and later a chauffeur for Taymour, and nerdy, depressed Mustafa studying mechanical engineering. Mahmoud explores the complexities of life in contemporary Cairo through the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. Individually, his characters are well developed, and his grasp of recent history is firm and illuminating. But almost every dramatic situation fizzles out, as the action becomes decreasingly credible and the narrative connections increasingly strained. It’s an ambitious effort with many striking details of life, but it’s undermined by its convoluted structure. (Oct.)