20 January 2012

Ahmed Khaled Towfik, Utopia, 2009

Sometime in the mid-21st Century, Utopia exists as a large enclave of well-off Egyptians, living behind high walls on the north Egyptian coastline and protected by the US military. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has been left to descend into anarchy and barbarism. One of the sports favoured by the affluent and bored Utopian youth is to venture outside Utopia’s walls and return with a trophy – usually a body part of some semi-feral non-Utopian – and when one such venture goes wrong the antagonists are on the receiving end of an unexpectedly beneficial turn of events. You could reasonably expect Utopia to be a rather brutal bildungsroman, but the life lessons taught to the selfish Utopians are not learned, in fact they’re rejected in favour of a restatement of their born superiority. This is a well-written and rather chilling book, as might be expected of the Arab world’s leading writer of horror and fantasy, and is one that I cautiously recommend. Towfik spares no polite sensibilities the reader may have – no characters are particularly likeable or even admirable, and they are all put through their own versions of hell. Utopia was first published in Arabic in 2009 more than a year before the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, yet in a brief note at the beginning Towfik states he believes a place like Utopia will certainly exist in Egypt in the near future. Such is the depth of cynicism on display here that I doubt any of that sentiment will have changed.  PY


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