In This Review

The Republic of False Truths
The Republic of False Truths
By Alaa al Aswany. Translated by S. R. Fellowes.
416 pp, Knopf, 2021
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The Egyptian novelist Aswany, author of the famed novel The Yacoubian Building, has taken for his canvas this time not just a single apartment block in Cairo but the entire Egyptian uprising of 2011. Aswany weaves a surprisingly nuanced and affecting portrait of the ill-fated revolution through a collection of stock characters: the pious, cruel, and self-important general; his rebellious daughter; her poor but virtuous medical-student boyfriend; the driver of a disillusioned businessman, who is in turn the patron of a young revolutionary; the smarmy imam who has a religious justification for every vice; and a thwarted actor, a Copt who has a love affair with his Muslim maid. A pervasive if invisible burden of fear—of God, of poverty, of social disapproval, of torture—weighs heavily on the story. These fears, provoked and manipulated by those whom Aswany sees as the revolt’s powerful opponents—the military establishment, corrupt business owners, and virtually all of the country’s religious authorities—eventually overwhelmed the daring and audacious, if naive, efforts of the revolutionaries to usher in a polity founded on freedom and social justice. Small wonder the book has been banned in Egypt and much of the rest of the Arab world.