Two reporters covering Egypt after the Arab Spring collide with ignorance, crackdowns, and tragedy.
Hamilton’s debut follows Mariam and Khalil, a couple that comes from different backgrounds (she’s an Egyptian daughter of two doctors, he’s an American-born Palestinian and the son of musicians), who work for Chaos, a media collective determined to spread the word about ongoing government repression in Cairo. They’re engaged in deeply asymmetric warfare: as the government shifts from post-Mubarak military rule to Mohamed Morsi to Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, its strong-arm tactics become harsher, and outside support for revolutionaries is slim after the first flower of revolution in 2011; Chaos has plenty of followers and a steady stream of podcasts, but “tweets don’t stop bullets.” Hamilton, who's worked for a group similar to Chaos, captures the difficulty of arriving at factual clarity in what’s effectively a war zone, ping-ponging conflicting quotes, tweets, and Facebook posts across the page. His style and tone reveal how high the stakes are, and the confusion that prevails amid propaganda, but Hamilton’s attempts to describe more individual conflicts are only moderately successful. Mariam and Khalil, despite their affection for each other, mainly lament about Egypt’s future, and their interactions are often restricted to debating Eric Hobsbawm’s writings or engaging in lyrical, sloganeering dialogue. (“You’re marching to bring down a fascist. What more is there?” “We need a new answer. The whole world needs a new answer.”) That’s all the more frustrating because Hamilton is strong at characterization when he attempts it, as when Khalil considers his various conflicted national identities and feelings toward his father. The novel implies that there’s little time for such solipsistic musings when the presidential palace has been converted into a torture chamber, but the emotional distance dampens the impact of Hamilton’s storytelling about its victims.
A well-informed, earnest tale of life during a flailing revolution.