"The Queue ... has drawn comparisons to Western classics like George Orwell’s 1984 and The Trial by Franz Kafka. It represents a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring." -- The New York Times
Winner of the English PEN Translation Award
In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.
Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun: a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the brother of a security officer killed in clashes with protestors. Among them is Yehia, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehia’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet.
Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehia and save his life.
Written with dark, subtle humor, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it.
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.