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Using Life (Emerging Voices from the Middle East) Paperback – November 14, 2017

3.1 out of 5 stars 4 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


"Alan Moore meets Nahgib Mafouz in this exuberant, subversive novel by Egyptian writer Naji—who was jailed for his troubles. . . . A fly-on-the-wall view of an Egypt few outsiders know and one that, in its insistence on unveiled expression, offers hope for a more democratic future." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review 2017-09-19)

"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." (Wall Street Journal 2017-12-22)

"[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 2018-09-06)

"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." (Harper's Magazine 2018-01-01)

"[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." (Vulture 2017-11-07)

"[A] book that infuses new urgency and excitement in the Egyptian, and now international, literary world." (Words Without Borders 2017-12-01)

"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." (Rain Taxi 2019-04-01)


"Using Life is a riotous novel about a failing state, a corrupt city, a hypocritical authority, but it is also about tequila shots and getting laid and smoking weed with your infuriating girlfriend and debating whether rock music died in the Seventies and if Quentin Tarantino is a genius or a fraud. It’s a young man’s book. A young man whose youth is colliding with a dark moment in history." (Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books)

"The name Ahmed Naji has become a rallying cry for writers around the world to stand with free-thinking Egyptians who are unwilling to surrender their rights without a fight." (Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America)

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Reviewed in the United States on January 29, 2018
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Reviewed in the United States on May 12, 2018
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Reviewed in the United States on June 15, 2018