Book Review: The Day The Leader Was Killed

Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt) is undoubtedly one of my favorite authors. His beautiful lyrical language and multi-layered stories are what draw me to his work.

“The Day the Leader Was Killed” is a political novella set in 1981 during President Sadat’s infitah campaign, his open-door economic policy which raised the cost of living for everyday Egyptians. This is the story of Elwan engaged to beautiful Randa but without the means to get married. Her family is getting worried as she is now 26 and practically a spinster (!!!). The story is told through three narrators: Elwan, his grandfather Muhtashimi, and Randa.

The language is so beautiful, and the story might be set in 1981 but it might as well be 2020 because this is still a big problem in Egypt. When men are forced by tradition to own a fully furnished home before they can start a life with a loved one (and unchaperoned dating is frown upon), it makes it really difficult and frustrating for young people who, like Elwan and Randa might need to keep postponing being together. Economic situation keeps pushing young and talented Egyptian men to the Gulf for years looking for better wages that will increase their chances to save enough for marriage. That creates a gender imbalance, with young women, college educated and looking for love, outnumbering men and feeling pressured to marry older men. And Mahfouz is a master at presenting social dilemma of the middle class and their economic difficulties.

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