STARRED REVIEW
July 2017

A face in the crowd

By Ian Bassingthwaighte
Review by

Ian Bassingthwaighte’s experience as a legal aid worker in Egypt in 2009, helping to place refugees from Iraq and Sudan, was the impetus for this remarkable and timely debut novel, which takes place in Cairo in 2011, just after President Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power.

Share this Article:

Ian Bassingthwaighte’s experience as a legal aid worker in Egypt in 2009, helping to place refugees from Iraq and Sudan, was the impetus for this remarkable and timely debut novel, which takes place in Cairo in 2011, just after President Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power.

The story focuses on four characters trying to survive in the chaotic months following Mubarak’s ouster. Dalia is an Iraqi refugee who becomes trapped in Egypt after her petition to join her husband, Omran, in America is denied. Omran worked for the U.S. Army in Iraq and was abducted and tortured by anti-American militia. He was granted the right to go to America for his own safety, but for want of an official marriage certificate, Dalia was forced to stay behind. She escaped to Cairo, where she contacts the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, in hopes of obtaining her own refugee status so she can join Omran.

Dalia's case is assigned to Hana, an Iraqi citizen with her own tragic backstory: She has recently been hired by the UNHCR to read and evaluate refugee petitions, only a fraction of which are approved each year. Hana empathizes with Dalia, but her boss insists that Dalia’s case is not convincing enough, and her petition is denied.

Two other characters who become immersed in Dalia’s plight are Charlie, a lawyer for the Refugee Relief Project, and Aos, his translator who is also an active participant in anti-government protests. How they become enmeshed in a risky plot to get Dalia out of Cairo becomes the crux of the novel’s second half, as they enlist Hana’s help in some highly illegal activity, putting them all in danger.

We can all become numb by reading the news each day and seeing images on social media of those seeking safety from the violence in their home countries. But a novel such as this puts a very personal face on this growing global problem—one that is not going to disappear soon.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Live From Cairo

Live From Cairo

By Ian Bassingthwaighte
Scribner
ISBN 9781501146879

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.