Book Notification

Noor Naga Books In Order

Book links take you to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn money from qualifying purchases.

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Washes, Prays (2020)Description / Buy at Amazon
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English (2022)Description / Buy at Amazon

Noor Naga is an award-winning Canadian-Egyptian author best known for her 2022 bestselling novel If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English. Born in Philadelphia, Naga lived in Charleston, South Carolina, before her family moved to Dubai at the age of 7 years. She attended the University of Toronto and earned a Master of Creative arts. Naga’s debut novel, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English, was included in TIME’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2022 and received positive media responses.

Some novels can be termed interesting most genuinely and excitingly, and Noor Naga’s debut novel is such a unique masterpiece. Even long after reading the last page, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English is a book that will provoke such uncomfortable and essential questions.
The experimentation in Noora Naga’s book is mainly one of structure and perspective. The novel can be split into three sections- the first and the most prolonged talks of the destined-to-doom Cairo romance between an Egyptian-American woman arriving from New York while in search of a home she has never known and an unnamed Egyptian man who leaves a traumatic past in the rural village of Shobrakheit. The year is 2017, and six years after Arab Spring. The story’s first section is narrated in brief, single-paragraph chapters. Each begins with a riddle-like question and alternates between the point of views of the two characters as they meet and get to know each other, get intimate, and end up splitting violently.

Allowing these two characters to tell the story in tandem from the distinct point of view allows the author to slowly reveal their divergent identities, preoccupations, and backstories, allowing the reader to have a glimpse into the evolution and destruction of the relationship as it is understood by two people from two different parts of the world. Through this first section, it becomes clear to the readers that the language barrier, the circumstances of their birth, and the inequity and resulting resentment and guilt make an impossible lasting connection.

The second section of the novel deals with the aftermath of the breakup. Happy to finally be free from the weight on her shoulder imposed by the relationship, the American-Egyptian woman returns to speaking her native language and what she is familiar with. She often ponders about the girl she was while in the relationship- often terming that version as weak and self-effacing. Getting back on track, she starts dating and getting intimate with William, an English man. She lives in her cozy apartment with several balconies and gets a job as an English teacher at British Council in Cairo.

On the other hand, the boy from Shobrakheit stalks her with every move she makes. Besides grief from the breakup, he’s also dealing with cocaine addiction. The novel’s third and last section is designed as a play script filled with stage directions. This section takes an interesting metafictional turn, unraveling the author’s master plan to interrogate her carefully crafted story.

The tale of the Egyptian-American lady and the young man from Shobrakheit is currently being workshopped as a memoir in a class on creative writing with seven other students, including the book’s author, Noor, and an English-speaking teacher. She has brought the manuscript’s third planned section, which describes the complex fallout from her last interaction with the young man from Shobrakheit, for review. Most of her classmates, except for one, despise and dismiss the man from Shobrakheit as a “junkie” and ” stalker ” deserving what becomes of his fate. However, her attempt to present an intricate portrayal of the unfair circumstances surrounding this last encounter, filled with social and class implications, is met with disapproval.

Since the entire book is about Cairo, Naga mocks our naive expectations of “marvelous” writing by concluding with the voices of a group of arrogant, ignorant readers who are more interested in emotionally investing in the protagonists and sensory descriptions of “the textures as well as kinks that make Cairo” than in grappling with more profound truths about power, class, and intent. As a writer, Naga doesn’t shield herself from this examination, and the shocking conclusion to this imaginative and clever novel vehemently supports her argument.
Nora Naga’s greatest strength in this novel is vividly capturing the slow withering of relationships, the gradual accent into love, the emotional compromise, and the final discovery of what cannot be. The novel questions how much can be compromised in a relationship, personal, family, and national existence. The American’s love for the Egyptian man is marked by the differences, especially in ideology, character, education, and class. What’s most interesting in this case is how their differences, fueled by their budding love, are showcased in accreting details. At one point, the reader might start questioning the nature of the love between these two.

The Egyptian is a product of governmental and national dysfunctions. His drug addiction scars the relationship with dark patches, memories, highs, and swoons. He often experiences withdrawal symptoms and regularly fantasizes about contacting his drug dealer since he stopped using after meeting the American woman. From this viewpoint, the narrative becomes darker and more violent. The narration from the Egyptian point of view reads like a drug-induced hallucination. For example, after moving to the American woman’s home, he feels suffocated by its walls and history. He does feel trapped and yearns to explore the outside though he feels obliged to remain indoors. Leaving home is metaphorized for leaving the woman.

Noora Naga’s narrative vividly captures how the legacy of violence extends through Egypt’s personal and national history. In addition, this is a story of revolution from a personal and collective point of view. The national problems grow into emotional traumas. For example, the poor people in Shobrakheit and the larger Cairo are often displaced by greed for land by those in power. Naga’s story is full of symbolism, especially with descriptions of the inner structures of the American’s flat. She tells of a society that, in most cases, is strained by religion and, simultaneously, is full of thriving life in secular circles.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Noor Naga

Leave a Reply