Before this book review begins, I would like to point out that this is the first book by an Egyptian author that I have read. Thus, my opinion regarding the culture, the history and the context of the events taking place is the opinion of a reader and not an expert.
The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany is much anticipated as its author is one of the foremost voices of the Arab world. Set in Egypt in 2011, the novel plunges us, the readers, into a world of turmoil and social unrest. The Egyptian revolution is about to take place and Aswany shows us its history and importance through a set of characters that will introduce you to new ideas, new culture, and new ways to look at religion.
The novel has a number of narratives going through it and a cast of characters that sit on the polar opposites of the revolution. The reader is privileged to see the viewpoints and ideas of both the revolutionaries and the people defending the old regime. I found this to be helpful for a reader such as myself, who know next to nothing about the Egyptian revolution. The myriad narrative structure gives us the chance to learn the ideas of both sides, and then if we are willing to do some research, we get to learn so much more about Egypt and its recent political turmoil. Throughout the story, we get to see young people such as Asma, a young teacher, fighting for a new country they believe in. We see them lay their lives down for the well-being of their homeland. On their opposite are people like General Always, a pious man who is also a high-ranking member of the government security. His belief in the existing regime is just as vehement and true in its nature as the beliefs of the revolutionaries. The honest portrayal of both sides presents us with a narrative that feels objective which is the best way to create a story that deals with difficult topics.
Yet, with this said, I found it difficult at times to enjoy the actual story. Although the characters are interesting and I grew to care for some of them, I thought that the story bordered on melodramatic soap opera at some points. A lot happens in the book and this is where my lack of cultural knowledge hinders me a bit. I do not know if some of the proclamations, twists and turns that seemed overly dramatic in my mind are actually a portrayal of a different culture or just examples of bad writing. Since finishing the book, I have read quite a lot regarding the Egyptian Revolution and Murabak’s regime. However, there isn’t a go to guide as to how Egyptian people react when faced with different situations. Thus, it is best if everyone reads it for themselves and form their own opinion. For me, some bits of the novel simply felt over the top and as part of an artificial drama. The same was felt when the author was describing the torture of women. I am well aware that such torture really takes place. However, from the very graphic descriptions in the novel it was obvious that the writer was a man. The constant repetitions that occurred only when focusing on the torture of female characters was not only off-putting, but it makes you wonder why it is there in the first place.
However, even though there were bits that could have been written better, I would still recommend The Republic of False Truths to every curious reader out there. The context of the book is steeped in culture, history, religion and daily life and even if the reader doesn’t enjoy the story itself, they will learn so much about a new place, and I think that this is just as equally important as reading a good story.
The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany is out in April 2021, published by Faber Books