In Basma Abdel Aziz’s haunting novel about state oppression, Here Is a Body, homeless youth are conscripted into a rehabilitation program sponsored by a general, while ordinary citizens, who oppose him, protest a recent coup.
In this bracing novel set in a hypothetical dystopia, questions of individuality and solidarity arise within a Middle Eastern country where devotion turns suspect and misinformation thrives. The lucid narration charts characters’ initial, cautious fervor, alongside their hollowing emotions and inevitable disillusionment.
In the tense opening, Rabie is disoriented after having been kidnapped along with some fellow street children. In a camp governed by leaders who refer to the boys as “bodies,” they live by strict schedules, train daily, absorb lectures and news, and practice marksmanship. As Rabie observes, the fraught space between thinking that he’s been saved from society’s ire and knowing that his freedom was compromised results in fascinating psychological quandaries, alongside suspenseful doubts about his true loyalties.
Meanwhile, the Raised Banner Movement gathers to decry the abduction of a ruler and with the hopes of getting him reinstated. They settle into the “Space,” which resembles its own city-within-a-city. The book is deft at splicing media portrayals of the boys’ camp, which is painted as a charity despite being an army, with scenes of Rabie and his friends’ efforts to remember their humanity, even as they’re indoctrinated with false accounts of the protesters that suggest that they’re a blight on morality, though their reality is closer to a cooperative commune. This intricate series of triggering events concludes in a massacre.
This potent novel about powerful regimes and their constant rhetoric is nonetheless hopeful about powerless voices within those regimes who recognize their own manipulation. Here Is a Body handles religion, politics, community, and family with provocative vitality.
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