Book Reviews

Book Review: If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English

If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English tells the story of an American born Egyptian woman, who returns to Cairo following the revolution, and her relationship with one of the activists from the revolution, a photographer from the rural part of the country. They find each other interesting because of their differences, but it is the same difference which eventually drives them apart. This was a difficult book to read, not just because of the content, but also because of stylistic reasons. The single page chapters that often switched between point of views of the two protagonists made me feel like I was witnessing a ping pong match, with the Egyptian perspective and American perspective both trying to establish themselves as the louder voice of the story. Also, the lack of paragraphs and riddle-like question in the beginning of each chapter made it hard for the story to maintain continuity. Thirdly, there was not a single likeable character so it’s difficult to root for anyone.

Finally, it felt like it was written from a privileged, and frankly imperialist point of view, where the female protagonist makes little attempt to describe Egypt and Egyptians in a remotely positive light. To be honest, I found the female protagonist kind of infuriating, since to me it feels like she chose Egypt and Egyptians as a suitable element which was utilized for her own soul searching. She is not someone interested in knowing or understanding the country, its politics, its rich culture, or even its people. She is too busy wrapped up in her own first world problems and witnessing the sorry state of affairs of in her country of origin from a distance in a cold and unfeeling way. I’m sure she will remind many immigrants, or first-generation Americans about their relationship with their home countries.