Books·Canadian

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English

A book by Noor Naga.

Noor Naga

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, an Egyptian American woman and a man from the village of Shobrakheit meet at a café 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? (From Graywolf Press)

Noor Naga is a Canadian-Egyptian writer. She won the 2017 Bronwen Wallace Award for her poem The Mistress and the Ping. She also won the Disquiet Fiction Prize in 2019. In 2020, Noor was named a writer to watch by CBC Books. Her first book, the poetry collection Washes, Prayswas published in 2020 and was named among the best poetry of the year by CBC Books

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English is on the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist. The winner will be announced on Nov. 7, 2022.

Naga is a bold writer, unafraid of complexity and complication. She is also a magician with language.- 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury

From the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury: "A work of startling emotional depth and intellectual rigor, Noor Naga's If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English probes the ethics of identity, desire, privilege and storytelling. Set in Cairo in the wake of the Arab Spring, the novel tracks the relationship between a troubled Egyptian photographer, and an Egyptian American woman recently arrived in the city. It is at once a love story, a disquisition on politics, an exploration of trauma, and a deft work of meta fiction – a slim novel that at times seems almost infinitely capacious. Naga is a bold writer, unafraid of complexity and complication. She is also a magician with language. Every sentence in this exhilarating novel astonishes and provokes; in the end, the relationship Naga probes most urgently is our relationship with language, its power to coerce and control, and its power to liberate."

Interviews with Noor Naga

In her new novel-in-verse Washes, Prays, Noor Naga proposes there is space in CanLit between the Muslim terrorist and saint, for a Muslim mistress. Her book tells the story of a young Muslim woman in Toronto who has an affair with a married man, then faces a spiritual crisis. It's also an exploration of loneliness, longing, faith, and the role of technology in modern love.

Other books by Noor Naga

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