The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

the queue

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a translation of an Arabic novel that is really neat.Ever since the disgraceful event of a failed uprising, everything in society is now controlled by “The Gate”. People need to visit The Gate in order to meet their most basic needs, but The Gate never opens and the line of people grows steadily longer. People leave their work, homes and family to wait in line. Society starts to crumble as nothing gets done and more and more people require The Gate to function and leave to join the queue.

The story is told through the POV of several different people. One of the main characters is Yehya, a man who has a bullet lodged in his gut and needs permission from the Gate to have it surgically removed. Since the regime in power is denying all rumours that they fired on their protesting citizens, it will be an uphill battle to get the surgery. Tarek, the doctor, is losing sleep because he cannot remove the bullet without risking his career. Yehya’s girlfriend Amani and his best friend Nagy spend more and more of their time trying to figure out how to bypass the Gate and get Yehya his surgery before the bullet pierces something vital.

The real glory of this book is the possible parallel between modern Egypt under Mubarak and the society in the novel. Aziz really does a great job of portraying a society where the government has stopped serving its people, bureaucracy impedes everything, and the entire nation waits and hopes for something to change. There is revolution slowly developing, but because the last one was put down so violently, many people are not willing to risk it. Everyone waits and tries to live their lives as best they can with all the usual structures that hold society together crumbling.

The government in the novel also effectively uses religion as a tool to keep everyone in line. Government decrees are given the status of semi-religious revelation, and being a good person means being a good citizen. Some people become religion zealots for the government and try and keep their fellow citizens in line, fearful of the wrath of God that will befall them if too many people turn to sin.

This novel was an eye-opener for what it means to live in an oppressive theocracy that has decided to stop functioning. It is scary to realize that this is the daily reality for some people, and suddenly you have a lot more sympathy for people in countries with non-functioning and corrupt governments. I would definitely recommend this as a fairly serious read.

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