Sunday, November 17, 2013

A More Diverse Universe: Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik

It's that time of year again - this is the second annual More Diverse Universe event, focusing on speculative fiction by authors of color and hosted by Aarti over at Book Lust. I participated last year with my review of Field of Honor by D.L. Birchfield (one of my favorite reads last year!), and this year I'm reviewing Utopia by Arabic author Ahmed Khaled Towfik.

Publisher: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Translator: Chip Rossetti
Date: 2008 (trans. 2011)
Format: hardback
Source: Christmas gift
Read: for A More Diverse Universe
Pages: 160
Reading time: about two hours

From GoodReads: A grim futuristic account of Egyptian society in the year 2023, Utopia takes readers on a chilling journey beyond the gated communities of the North Coast where the wealthy are insulated from the bleakness of life outside the walls. When a young man and a girl break out from this bubble of affluence in order to see for themselves the lives of their impoverished fellow Egyptians they are confronted by a world that they had not imagined possible. 

My review: Utopia brings back many of the elements of classic dystopian novels: social criticism, frightening possible visions of the future, and pessimism. This particular novel is particularly aimed at Egyptian society; not knowing a great deal about events there over the past few years, I thought a lot of the messages could equally apply to any country or region. This is a brief book, but its vision is powerful and terrifying. The entire novel is an interesting read, but the ending in particular struck me by its lack of redemption for society. This deep pessimism is what really separates Towfik's Utopia from other recent dystopian writings that see themselves as needing to offer an ending with some goodness to a story rather than focus entirely upon prophetic examinations of socio-economic and political issues. The surprise of the conclusion made the book fantastic and utterly depressing to me at the same time.

Maturity factor: general content, non-explicit rape


  1. Wow, fantastic AND utterly depressing? That implies that the author has a truly brilliant turn of phrase. Will definitely need to look more into this - I have never read any dystopia from the East.

    Thanks so much (and apologies for how belated this is) for participating in #diversiverse this year! I hope you found a lot of great new authors to check out.

    1. Thanks for hosting the event again, Aarti! I was surprised, actually, to find any Arabic speculative fiction - the little that seems to have been written does not often drift over to a English-speaking audience.