• The cover of the book The Queue

    The Queue

    After a popular uprising in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, one day out of nowhere there appears a Gate the citizens don’t understand. Soon the Gate becomes the source of all governmental authority, and the country’s ruler disappears from public eye. Often, a person will discover that they need a form signed, or a document issued, or a certificate to file—whatever it is, whether they’ve been summoned or chose to go voluntarily—and for these and all other civic quandaries they must wait in the queue, the now two-km-long line that extends from the Gate’s ominous façade out into the city. But in Basma Abdel Aziz’s brilliant political allegory, the Gate doesn’t open, and for the characters in The Queue, the waiting functions as the novel’s plot. In the wake of a recently defeated uprising (referred to as the Disgraceful Events), the citizens of Aziz’s unnamed country face a tyranny made all the more insurmountable by its paucity of human symbols and by the overwhelming power of the Gate’s loom. In elegant prose (fantastically translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette), Aziz’s scope widens beyond the queue and into the unlucky lives of those who form it. There’s a bit of Kafka and Beckett going on here, but Aziz’s grasp on the way life under despotism can, sadly, adapt to absurdity and authoritarianism, is entirely her own.