The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz


/ Remi
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I don’t know what it says about me, how I am fascinated by dystopian novels. I will gladly take the double-punch of Kafka and Huxley with Max Barry’s Lexicon as a chaser, and come away from it as the sad sack one would expect.

Personal quirks/flaws/demons aside, Basma Abdel Aziz’s take on the genre sounded different enough to interest me when I first heard of it. Aziz is a female Egypitan writer and psychiatrist, and The Queue serves as allegory of life after the Arab Spring, as well as a view of feminism in a country where the movement never flourished.

Yet you don’t have to be highfalutin and read this for political and social cocktail party discussions: The Queue is a tense, entertaining, and smart story, with a pinch of sci-fi and mystery, and slam-dunked by a mind-bending ending. More about both in a bit.

The story follows a large gallery of characters, centered around Yehya, a man who was shot during a protest against the government. If he was a protester or a bystander is a central part of the mystery, and the government would, of course, never harm its citizens. Nor would its citizens ever need to protest against it, and what actually happened gets spun any which way through the story. It’s all very Big Brother.

As «no-one» was shot, Yehya is not allowed to get the surgery he requires, unless he gets a stamp from The Gate, a governmental organization residing behind…surprise, surprise… a gate. It was closed after what was dubbed The Disgraceful Event, and thus people queue up in front of it, waiting to get stamps and permits they require to do pretty much anything.

Needless to say the queue gets very long, very soon, and with The Gate not opening… Things get grim, and a society forms around it.

There are twists and turns, and toward the last third, the story turns eerie. Yehya’s girlfriend gets caught in a situation that ends up in a scene that truly is disturbing, and by the time the (abrupt) end comes, you will question who is who, who did what, what is what, and so on and so forth.

Initially, I found the ending to be too abrupt, but seeing I have been thinking about it for more than a week and many theories have formed in my mind, I’d say Aziz nailed it pretty well.

There is a lot more to The Gate than straightforward dystopia, too, and what happened to Yehya’s girlfriend steps firmly in sci-fi territory. What is The Gate? What technologies does it sit on? How can it affect its citizens?

I love this book. It’s one of the very few I will re-read if only to understand what actually happened to whom. Reading a dystopian story from another culture—and, atypically, by a female—is interesting in itself, but that would be neither here nor there if it wasn’t well written. The Queue is very well written—and, from what I can gather, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette—and incredibly entertaining. You won’t feel as :D about it if you’re not too into infuriating endings—and I don’t blame you if you’re not—but it might still be worth checking out. If nothing else, you’ll likely appreciate the journey.