CIRCLING THE SQUARE by Wendell Steavenson


Stories from the Egyptian Revolution
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Impassioned coverage from the front lines of a historic Middle Eastern uprising.

New Yorker staff writer Steavenson (The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny, 2009) reported from Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution amid President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, and she diligently charts her thoughts and experiences in this series of biographical sketches and observances. Arriving in Cairo a day after Egypt’s Day of Rage, the author became immediately immersed in the highly volatile landscape as friendly yet scrutinizing armed citizen committees patrolled Tahrir Square while tanks and militia in riot gear ascended the Corniche El-Nile. Steavenson came to appreciate and become enthralled by this prideful population eager to commit their newfound freedom to video and social media. Traversing an “awkward mix of military with civilians,” she encountered an emboldened Egyptian counterculture, and she brings their stories to vibrant life. Among them were a prominent, politically active gynecologist upon whose panoramic balcony Steavenson met a colorful host of budding radicals; proprietors of a century-old, family-owned bakery; a young translator who accompanied the author to sprawling midnight sit-ins; a sensitive, street-wise taxi driver; and a cutthroat lieutenant colonel with Egyptian military intelligence. Collectively, their stories illustrate the rich Egyptian cultural tapestry of a triumphant people, even as a new president rose to power and violence erupted on Steavenson’s final day in Cairo. The author’s anecdotes and reflections are complemented by photographs of ubiquitous graffiti found throughout Tahrir Square, which formed an artistic voice of the people, creatively exemplifying their defiance and revolutionary fervor. Though her own personal narration bears weight to the experience, Steavenson allows the reformists she encountered to speak for themselves as they strived for social justice: “I would need to be a novelist,” she writes, “to write a better truth than these glimpses offer.”

An intensive firsthand exploration of modern Egyptian liberation and solidarity.

Pub Date: July 21st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-237525-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2015


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