Upon its initial release in Arabic in the fall of 2014, Using Life received acclaim in Egypt and the wider Arab world. But in 2016, Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison after a reader complained that an excerpt published in a literary journal harmed public morality. His imprisonment marks the first time in modern Egypt that an author has been jailed for a work of literature. Writers and literary organizations around the world rallied to support Naji, and he was released in December 2016. His original conviction was overturned in May 2017 but, at the time of printing, he is awaiting retrial and banned from leaving Egypt.
Set in modern-day Cairo, Using Life follows a young filmmaker, Bassam Bahgat, after a secret society hires him to create a series of documentary films about the urban planning and architecture of Cairo. The plot in which Bassam finds himself ensnared unfolds in the novel's unique mix of text and black-and-white illustrations.
The Society of Urbanists, Bassam discovers, is responsible for centuries of world-wide conspiracies that have shaped political regimes, geographical boundaries, reigning ideologies, and religions. It is responsible for today's Cairo, and for everywhere else, too. Yet its methods are subtle and indirect: it operates primarily through manipulating urban architecture, rather than brute force. As Bassam immerses himself in the Society and its shadowy figures, he finds Cairo on the brink of a planned apocalypse, designed to wipe out the whole city and rebuild anew.
Earn by promoting books
Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.Become an affiliate
About the Author
"Using Life, which has been vividly translated into English by Benjamin Koerber, is a ribald, streetwise, outrageously inventive speculative fiction that hammers at the chaos and dysfunction of Egyptian life while testifying to the vitality of its counterculture. . . . Even as Egyptian authorities play to the dystopian script by attempting to punish the author for his heterodoxies, his book memorably celebrates the country's underground seams of freedom and individual expression."-- (12/22/2017)
"[Using Life] is full of intimate familiarity, occasional tender scorn, and a fervent curiousity toward city and man's entwined fates that is also somehow cooly detached."--Electric Literature (09/06/2018)
"The book is an experiment, wild and weird, full of non sequiturs and oddball imagery...Perhaps it is subversive precisely for its love of whimsy; in a culture beset with political gloom, it agitates for the freedom to be unserious."-- (01/01/2018)
"[Naji's] story, liberally and whimsically illustrated, follows a 'professional kiss-ass' who ends up stumbling upon a dystopian architectural conspiracy. The real revelation, though, is the cynicism and paralysis afflicting Bassam and his friends, victims of political and religious forces squandering a great city's creativity."-- (11/07/2017)
"[A] book that infuses new urgency and excitement in the Egyptian, and now international, literary world."--Words Without Borders (12/01/2017)
"The craziest and most inventive dystopian routine fails to tilt Using Life toward fantasy. Naji's skill is making such madness read like journalism. This reviewer has never been to Cairo; after reading this book, not only do I want to go, but I also want to take a bath. Imagine William S. Burroughs without the zest for life and underlying humanism."-- (04/01/2019)