... a multi-voiced work of elation and despair — as the power of the people briefly triumphed over an oppressive and unscrupulous autocracy — and a vivid take on both sides of the revolution, from the perspective of those who either enthusiastically supported or violently opposed the reforms ... a lively, versatile and frequently chilling English translation by SR Fellowes ... above all, a robust and brave undertaking. For this reason a surreal air hovers above the prose, which veers between uneasy irony and straight-out reportage, even though the characters are fictional ... Aswany’s skewering of the excesses of corruption is written in a deceptively benevolent style, further enhancing the background noise of disquiet and outright terror, which grows almost deafening as the novel progresses ... If the novel has a major flaw it is that Aswany relies too much on stereotypes to create a sense of depth and connection. Yet despite this The Republic of False Truths is a blistering, bold dissection of a failed revolution, and of the disenchantment and dissent that inevitably follow.
... a polyphonic novel, in a lively translation here by SR Fellowes, whose various narratives offer glimpses of the gathering unrest across Cairo society as the characters’ lives converge on Tahrir Square ... Al-Aswany has always had a sharp eye for the inflated self-love of the powerful and knows that the most effective attack is mockery; in this respect, he is often compared to Mario Vargas Llosa. If the general appears almost cartoonish at times, he is intended as the caricature of a type ... Elsewhere, the author draws his characters with more delicate strokes ... a glorious, humane novel that chronicles the failure of a revolution and its personal cost without ever quite extinguishing hope of a better future.
Wissa’s transformation is finely traced and points to an important truth about the 2011 revolts. It was the young people, acting outside established parties, who taught their elders how to rise up and remove a dictator ... It is here that Aswany’s basically melodramatic approach to storytelling becomes a handicap. In his novel, the deep state’s response to the revolution is masterminded by the general of the opening scene. He effortlessly marshals Egypt’s media elite to turn on the protesters, branding them as foreign agents who can be shot down in the streets ... Rather than the messy, unscripted drama of fallible characters colliding with one another in the midst of a historical crisis, we have a soap opera in which a monolithic state apparatus batters its noble and self-sacrificing youth...This doesn’t leave much room for novelistic complication...It is also unsatisfying as history. What about the Egyptians who didn’t fall into either camp? Aswany treats the Muslim Brotherhood as an object of crude satire — like many Egyptian leftists, he regards Islamism as merely a mask for venality — and shows little interest in ordinary citizens who don’t support the revolution ... Aswany often mocks the conspiracy theories of sheikhs and army officers, who painted the revolution as a foreign plot. But his own novel ends up suggesting that the Egyptian state is exactly the sort of all-powerful and farseeing entity that its ideologues make it out to be — a myth the revolutionaries of 2011 spent so much blood to expose.
... occasionally creaky, with overly contrived cliffhanger chapter endings and a few overly sentimental touches. But it goes places that no nonfiction account could ... With its focus on family divisions, government intrigue and military abuses of power, it provides startling contexts for the struggles that made headlines 10 years ago. Its multiple points of view and I-am-a-camera techniques lend those events a wraparound immediacy. If over the past decade you’ve wondered why the pro-democracy movement in Egypt ultimately gained so little traction, Al Aswany gives you a sweeping, nuanced picture of why. He took part in the Tahrir Square protests, so his characters’ eyewitness accounts are rooted in his own firsthand experience ... takes readers from Cairo’s swankiest quarters to its grittiest slums ... While it’s clear which way Al Aswany’s sympathies lean, his sharp observations of ordinary human foibles and hypocrisies make the novel much more than a topical-events seminar or diatribe ... Al Aswany, in interviews, has been more sanguine about the prospects for freedom and human rights in Egypt — but not by much. This novel, in S.R. Fellows’ highly readable translation, gives you a comprehensive picture of what the challenges are.
Politics, education, the media, industry, law, religion are shown as hopelessly bemired. Hypocrisy is endemic. Blistering satire crackles alongside burning indignation as graphic accounts of counter-revolutionary atrocities are interspersed with sarcastic CVs of characters who have prospered through ostensible conformity ... A masterly panorama of doomed revolution, Aswany’s novel puts him in the company of writers such as Joseph Conrad or Mario Vargas Llosa as an outstanding fictional confronter of authoritarianism and its entrenched evils.
... [Aswany] maintains his uncompromising stance and is merciless in his depiction of the corruption and hypocrisy rampant in Egyptian politics during the Arab Spring of 2011 ... Both darkly comic and tragic ... kept me engrossed until way too late several nights running. It is a novel that compels you to care about what happens to the cast of characters and to have hope even when cynicism seems the only way to cope.
Each storyline unfolds in alternating chapters, a hallmark of Aswany’s multivocal style that conveys the tangled web of lives. And yet in another sense, his characters don’t read like actual, idiosyncratic, individual men and women ... Narrative energy flows mainly from debates between characters—or, in other words, from Aswany’s debates with himself ... Aswany’s hostility to Mubarak’s autocracy and support for Sisi’s gives away a searing inner conflict, of which The Republic of False Truths is a lively record. Aswany pulls no punches when criticizing the army, but he prefers the devil he knows over the one he doesn’t. Many in the Middle East like him think there are no great choices; it’s plausible, though disturbing, if they yield to cynicism. As for the novel, readers watch in horror as the Apparatus eats all the characters, making them choose between torture, complicity, or exile. The story ends on a hint of retribution, but one that, like the aftermath of the Arab Spring itself, merely repeats the cycle of blood instead of escaping it. Any happy ending, while still possible, has been deferred.
Certain novels complicate the very notion of literary enjoyment ... Despite its gripping narrative, compelling structure and vivid characters, every time I picked it up it was with a sinking heart. In telling the story of the Egyptian revolution of 2011 through the viewpoint of a variety of Cairenes both for and against, Alaa Al Aswany holds out the slender straw of hope against the slashing shears of repression ... If Wissa is a thoroughly attractive figure, Nourhan is a fascinating female villain, a paradoxically pious seductress who targets powerful men ... The novel ends with one small, sweet act of redress. But given the material, Al Aswany declines to offer us the full satisfaction of a happy ending. Retribution remains a purely literary concept.
[An] engaging, provocative and, ultimately, frustrating tour of the revolution, from its gestation to its bloody aftermath ... [Aswany's] dry tone accentuates the absurdity ... If this novel ever has a sequel, the author himself might be a character. He supported the uprising against Mubarak and has been sued for insulting Egypt’s current strongman ... Perhaps that sequel should be called The Republic of False Choices.
At its best, the book is exhilarating in its storytelling and devastating in its societal critique. But the novel, like the society it depicts, is undecided on what it wants to be: it makes too many arguments to be just a story; it is too emotionally involved for reportage. It is, however, an evocative and informed account of an important moment in Egyptian society.
Aswany’s crudeness is often attributed to his mockery of his subjects – to the excesses of wealth, power, corruption – but it is hard not to think of his character choices as outdated, even archaic: victim in some sense to the author’s own upbringing in a patriarchal society, as well as to his shortcomings as an observer of the contemporary world. And it is hard, too, not to wonder who his audience is. Surely most serious readers, both in Egypt and elsewhere, would enjoy a more complex set of personalities, rather than these typecast figures that seem so tailored to notions of Western exoticism ... If The Republic of False Truths were to have a strong point then it might reside in its ability to recapture this heady, hopeful period...But Egyptians now live under a regime whose authoritarianism, brutality and corruption would have been hard to imagine even during Mubarak’s era – and this matters to our critique of Aswany’s novel ... Six or seven years ago, before the extremity of the current administration took hold, The Republic of False Truths could have read like a bad Scorsese-esque script-in-the-making, exaggerated and excessive, crammed with enervating sensationalism and dull stereotypes, yet at least close to the events at hand. Today, however, it feels like nothing more than a glib and tone-deaf rendering of the past: one so out of touch with the present, and so unreflective, that it makes one question Alaa Al Aswany’s very purpose in sitting down to write it.
Al Aswany insightfully explores how the power-hungry elite systematically quash dissent not just through force but also by manipulating minds ... In today’s splintered and partisan political and media landscape, this is a stark lesson for democracies everywhere: Whoever controls the narrative, controls the outcomes. Brave, sobering, provocative, and thoroughly absorbing.
... ambitious and hard-hitting, if sometimes stiff ... the characters the author clearly has more affection for, like Ashraf and Asmaa, are richer and more flawed, and their experiences reveal how their acts of protest have social and personal consequences. And as a whole, the novel shows how the early promise of the protests fizzled, leading the country to lapse back into authoritarianism. Any successful revolution, Al Aswany suggests, will demand a wholesale cultural reckoning and tolerance for violent push back ... A flawed but valuable fictional reckoning with a failed revolution.