If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English
Winner of the 2022 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Shortlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlisted for the 2023 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award
Winner of the Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, a lush experimental novel about love as a weapon of empire.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, an Egyptian American woman and a man from the village of Shobrakheit meet at a cafÃ© in Cairo. He was a photographer of the revolution, but now finds himself unemployed and addicted to cocaine, living in a rooftop shack. She is a nostalgic daughter of immigrants “returning” to a country she’s never been to before, teaching English and living in a light-filled flat with balconies on all sides. They fall in love and he moves in. But soon their desire—for one another, for the selves they want to become through the other—takes a violent turn that neither of them expected.
A dark romance exposing the gaps in American identity politics, especially when exported overseas, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English is at once ravishing and wry, scathing and tender. Told in alternating perspectives, Noor Naga’s experimental debut examines the ethics of fetishizing the homeland and punishing the beloved . . . and vice versa. In our globalized twenty-first-century world, what are the new faces (and races) of empire? When the revolution fails, how long can someone survive the disappointment? Who suffers and, more crucially, who gets to tell about it?