The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz is something I’ve been dying to read since I first head it mentioned on one of the BookRiot podcasts. Unfortunately for me, it isn’t anywhere close to releasing in India and if I have to get it shipped to me it would cost a lot of monies. So I was exhilarated when I was asked to review an audiobook service, estories, and found this book on the list of new releases. Needless to say I clicked buy amidst much squealing and started listening immediately.
STORY AND WRITING
The Queue is a dystopian story following a few interconnected members of society in the Middle East after a failed political uprising that is not so affectionately called “The Disgraceful Events.”
One of the main characters we follow tough is Yehya, an unfortunate man who accidentally gets caught in the crossfire between the protesters who started “The Disgraceful Event” and the official police force that squished them down. In true Orwellian fashion, the government denies everything and claims that no bullets were fired during this event and anyone who says so is criminal and a liar or a person of no faith.
Tarek is the doctor who first x-rayed Yehya and told him to get permission to get the bullet removed. But later we come to hear that Yehya cannot get permission because he was part of the disgraceful events. Even later we learn that there were no bullets fired therefore Yehya doesn’t require permission to remove a bullet that doesn’t even exist, “HAHAHA” (sorry, the haha felt appropriately morbid there). You feel the frustration along with Yehya and the people around him, each fighting for their own rights and his. But people are disappearing and hope seems more and more bleak.
This story and it’s similarity to 1984 chilled me to my bones. There’s a surreal feel to the whole thing, almost like you’re watching everything that is happening in a detached fashion but at the same time you’re horrified by the events. Right from the people standing in the queue to the people that are away from the queue but are just as steadfast in their belief in the government, everyone seems mad and you’re left feeling like the only sane one remaining in the country.
I must say I’m having nightmares after this story and I’ve stopped trusting any news I hear. The same thing happened after reading 1984 so that’s a big compliment to the author, Basma Abdel Aziz. There are points where she makes fun of, in an absolutely diplomatic manner, the ridiculous orders that the government comes up with in the name of law and she casually showcases how women are, even in this dystopian world, lesser than the man who are bugs themselves. The only negative is the narrator who sounded more like he should be narrating a Hercule Poirot story than this one. Also, why do people pronounce why as hwhy? WHY?
Moving on, I adore the way the author has written The Queue and am looking forward to reading what she puts out next. You will enjoy this book if you liked Oryx And Crake and 1984.
In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Middle East, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.
Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun: an activist journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the cousin of a security officer killed in clashes with protestors. Among them is Yehya, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehya’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet.
Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehya’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehya and save his life.