Sherif 'Sheero' Abdallah is an NYU student reveling in independence from the judgmental gaze of his conservative family in Egypt. When the FBI comes knocking on his door, he learns that his cousin Amir has perpetrated a horrific crime, and Sheero is suddenly forced to return to Cairo and confront the events that led to their wildly different circumstances.
... enthralling ... Mahmoud explores the intricacies of Cairo’s social dynamics and how powerful family relations, societal judgment, and class can be despite physical and socioeconomic distance. His dynamic storytelling will keep readers engaged throughout.
Mahmoud’s uneven debut explores the discrepancies of class and wealth in modern Cairo and the Egyptian diaspora through multiple strands of plot that jump back and forth in time and merge only tangentially ... Individually, his characters are well developed, and his grasp of recent history is firm and illuminating. But almost every dramatic situation fizzles out, as the action becomes decreasingly credible and the narrative connections increasingly strained. It’s an ambitious effort with many striking details of life, but it’s undermined by its convoluted structure.
There’s a lot to admire here, from the way Mahmoud moves the action forward and backward in time and parcels out information about the different characters. But the novel can be frustrating in places—watching Sheero wrestle with both his memories and an onslaught of media attention in the aftermath of Amir’s violent act makes for compelling reading, but a large chunk of his inner conflict is resolved in passing late in the novel. It doesn’t always click seamlessly, but when this book hits its stride, it does so with great power. This novel’s complex web of relationships makes for an ambitious literary debut.