Right from the start, you can sense the urgency, the need to continue the fight that began with the Arab Spring uprisings. Set just after the Egyptian revolution occurred in Cairo in 2011, the novel is written in a diary-like format, with each section dated, giving the reader the sensation that time is moving too quickly while nothing is changing fast enough, if at all. On top of it, it seems like every few pages, more people are found to have been arrested or dead.
Mariam and Khalil are two young revolutionaries, in love with each other, their country and the revolution. Passionate about democracy and the need to end military rule, they will not stop going to Tahrir Square, helping the injured, spreading the news while trying to look after each other, their families and friends. Can love survive a revolution?
I was a tourist evacuated from Cairo in 2011 at the time the revolution started and, as such, I wanted to read this novel to see if it was similar to my memory and to also see if someone could capture the feelings and events. For me, I found it absolutely felt so real, even though it is a novel, to the point that sometimes I felt it hard to read, not because it was bad but because it was well-written, because it was lifelike, and because I could feel like I was there again.
This is a revolution of the technological age: “Chaos will carry news, and tactics and triumphs from Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Palestine. Start with the Arab Spring countries, then open to the whole Arab world, then: who knows? They can’t keep up with us, an army of Samsungs, Twitters, HTCs, emails, Facebook events, private groups, iPhones, phone calls, text messages all adjusting one another’s movements millions of times each second”.
So what went wrong?
This is Omar Robert Hamilton’s debut novel and it is amazing to see a debut novel of this quality and depth (though he has already won awards for film-making & scripts). It has the ability to elicit raw pain while describing the breadth of a political system, all through fiction. It is important to note that Hamilton was actually there during the revolution and co-founded Mosireen, a media hub that published revolutionary footage from 2011 onwards and has also supported other campaigns, such as those against sexual harassment.
This is not just a diary, just a love story, just a documentary or just a war story, it is a little of everything, based on fact. For anyone with even the slightest interest in what happens on the other side of the world, I highly recommend this book. It left me sad, uncomfortable, hopeful and uncertain, but knowing I had just read an amazing book.
Reviewed by Michelle Baylis
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2017
RRP: $23.00 paperback, $8.59 Kindle