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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Friendly Fire

Alaa Al Aswany

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To purchase Friendly Fire

Title: Friendly Fire
Author: Alaa Al Aswany
Genre: Stories
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 234 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Friendly Fire - US
Friendly Fire - UK
Friendly Fire - Canada
J'aurais voulu être égyptien - France
Ich wollt', ich würd' Ägypter - Deutschland
  • Arabic title: نيران صديقة
  • Translated by Humphrey Davies
  • With a Preface by the author

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Our Assessment:

B : solid collection of well-written stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 10/7/2009 Boyd Tonkin
NZZ . 10/11/2009 Angela Schader
The Times . 27/5/2009 Alice Fordham
VQR . Fall/2009 Michael Lukas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Fragment by fragment, character by character, Alaa Al Aswany's desolately touching stories paint modern Egypt as a landscape of humiliation, submission and defeat. Crushed by the weight of hierarchy and inequality -- in careers, in public life, in sexual and family ties -- his downtrodden toilers and dreamers inwardly rebel, outwardly surrender, and turn their stifled wrath on those even weaker than themselves." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "Aber was den Autor von seiner Figur Issam Abdalati unterscheidet, wird noch in den kritischsten und bissigsten Texten manifest: Hier ist eine menschliche Klugheit am Werk, die sich nicht hinter intellektuellen Attitüden verschanzt, sondern vielmehr gerade im "spontanen, schlichten Umgang" mit Menschen brilliert." - Angela Schader, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Al Aswany's anger with his country's political and social unfairness clearly has a foundation in a personal love for it and its people. His achievement in these stories is in making general complaints affecting, human and very personal." - Alice Fordham, The Times

  • "His protagonists often succeed in overcoming adversity, but in Friendly Fire, success is never without a sacrifice of some sort. At times al-Aswany’s stories are heartbreaking, at times they are uncomfortable, at times hilarious, but no matter what the mood, his work is always steeped in the greywater of humanity. Never one to shy away from uncomfortable truths, al-Aswany reveals in his stories a picture of Egypt much grittier than most Westerners would have imagined." - Michael Lukas, Virginia Quarterly Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Alaa Al Aswany's first two novels, The Yacoubian Building and Chicago, follow a variety of characters' stories, alternating between them to weave a larger picture of contemporary Egypt, or the life of Egyptians abroad. In contrast, in Friendly Fire, which includes one nearly hundred-page long novella as well as sixteen stories, the focus in each piece is very narrowly (and almost constantly) on an individual (often the narrator). Al Aswany's writing is generally tighter and more consistent in these smaller, more concentrated efforts -- perhaps because he doesn't have to force bridges between episodes and takes the freedom to only write what needs be written. Yet the much greater scale and reach of his novels, and his free-wheeling mix of stories in them is a great part of their appeal, and while the stories collected in Friendly Fire are well done, the sum of them does not have nearly the power of, especially, a novel such as The Yacoubian Building.
       The stories in Friendly Fire are set in contemporary Egypt, and the characters are generally not very well off (though few live in abject or desperate poverty). Throughout many of the stories there is an emphasis on a social/professional hierarchy, with clearly demarcated roles and with authority-figures in the position to significantly affect the lives of the characters. Several stories show the transition of a character from a position of powerlessness to becoming part of this prevalent system, most shockingly in the case of an admired schoolmate who first seems to stand up against the system but then embraces it.
       Most of the characters have accepted the prevailing system -- cowering almost naturally before the powers that be -- and while Al Aswany describes a few attempts to challenge it, most ultimately fail against the deeply entrenched way things are; several stories end showing how the characters resign themselves to the way things are, in a number of different ways. Even the rare hopeful ending is clearly delusional, as in 'Waiting for the Leader', where a follower of the Wafd (a political party that was long outlawed) has a vision of the dead party leader, Mustafa el-Nahhas, and follows the instructions he believes he has heard, to wait for the long dead man in front of the building that is the 'symbolic home of the Wafd Party'.
       The pieces range from the relatively fully-developed novella that opens the collection to several stories that are little more than sketches of a single episode, but Al Aswany presents the stories quite well throughout. The consistent bleakness -- not horrible misery, but simply a heavy sense that little in this particular world can be improved -- can be wearing. It is, however, a solid collection, and in some respects even more revealing about contemporary Egypt than The Yacoubian Building (even as it is not quite as enjoyable a reading experience).

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 November 2009

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Friendly Fire: Reviews: Other books by Alaa Al Aswany under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany (علاء الأسوانى) was born in 1957. He is also a dentist.

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© 2009 the complete review

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