This novel is banned in Egypt. The story it tells, of revolution and repression, is still raw ten years on from the real-life events that transform each of its many characters’ lives.
You can read many analyses of the Egyptian Revolution. Best-selling novelist Alaa Al Aswany’s book The Republic of False Truths makes it real.
The events of the revolution unfold almost in a fragmented way, as the narrative flits between an array of characters.
There’s the worker activist trying to build demonstrations against the regime, as well as strikes in his cement factory, trying to somehow tie the two together.
There’s the teacher trying to defy the unspoken corruption that demands she offers extra classes to children from wealthier backgrounds, and ignores those who can’t afford them.
There’s also the general—the devout Muslim who twists his religion into something that can justify torture. And there’s his daughter, also religious, struggling to believe him.
They’re all meant to represent the span of Egyptian society—but they’re not crude stand-ins or caricatures. Aswany gives a depth to each of them that makes them—and their flaws and hypocrisies—believable.
In the case of the general, this isn’t about humanising or sympathising with the regime.
It’s about exposing how the regime thinks and operates.
In the same way, Aswany uses the characters’ stories to demonstrate what poverty and corruption in Egypt actually look like for the people who suffer them.
And they show—rather than tell—the dynamics between the different forces that come together in a revolution.
Through the characters, we can see how the motivations of the middle classes who feel held back by regime corruption are different from the workers who just can’t bear poverty any longer.
Or how the activist—who for so long strives to convince workers to join the struggle against the regime—suddenly has to catch up with their demands as they take to the streets.
It’s an insight into revolution from someone who was actually involved—and which brings history and theory to life.