Move along, please: on Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue


What’s the longest queue you’ve ever stood in? The longest one I can remember being part of was when Battersea Power Station opened its doors as part of Open House London in 2013. There was much excitement from Time Out and its ilk and, not having much else on that day, we decided to check it out. Well, the queue ran for the length of Battersea Park (about a kilometre), over the road and through one of those interminable zig-zag sub-queues that always spring up just when you think you’ve reached the end. It rained. We were there for six hours. And you know what? When we got inside Battersea Power Station, it looked like a power station would from the inside. And that was that.

At least that queue moved (albeit slowly); was temporary. We didn’t need to be there, and there was a certain camaraderie among our fellow queue-ees. But imagine joining a queue and not knowing how long you could be there for. Imagine if joining this queue was the only way you could pay a bill, request a document, trace a record. The only way this queue moves forward, incidentally, is when someone else gives up and leaves. How long would you wait before you gave up? Half a day? Chance it overnight, at most? What if, gradually, everyone in the country needed to join the line?

The Queue, Basma Abdel Aziz’s absorbing, startling and timely study of a hypothetical Orwellian post-Arab-Spring society, uses this setup to beguiling effect. Written against the backdrop of Egypt’s cataclysmic revolution of 2011, the focus of The Queue rests on satirising the failings of Mubarak’s incumbent authorities, and their routine suppression of the Egyptian population. Aziz – herself an outspoken columnist for newspaper Al-Shorouk – is a rare example of a powerful, undimmed female voice speaking out from within an Arabic community. Yet this is far from the heavy-handed exercise in political allegory that it so easy could be; in fact, The Queue wears its messages with heart, humour and determination. What’s more, it rather puts my own queuing problems in the ‘first world’ category…

If The Queue sounds up your street…

Private Life by Joesp Maria de Sagarra (9780914671268, Archipelago, £14.99) – Scathing satire on Barcelona’s Catalan aristocracy which caused scandal upon its original release in 1932.

Europe in Revolt edited by Bhaskar Sunkara & Catarina Principe (9781608465934, Haymarket, £11.99) – Examines the key figures in the major European revolts of the last decade.

The Happy Marriage by Tahar Ben Jelloun (9781612194653, Melville House US, £18.99) – At a time when women’s rights in Morocco have changed for the better, this elegant novel recounts both sides of a ‘happy’ marriage.

The Queue is published 2 June by Melville House

Post by Tom

Find more Melville House fiction here

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