Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte

It’s 2011. Cairo is in the throes of revolution. Mubarak is no longer in power but the military have taken over and Mubarak seems likely to escape with his life.

Live from Cairo follows four main characters each struggling to find contentment whilst attempting to live in an increasingly unstable city.

Hana, an American from Iraq whose family fled Baghdad after the death of Hana’s father when Hana was still a bump in her mother’s belly, arrives in Cairo as a resettlement officer for the United Nations Refugee Agency. She comes hoping to help refugees find a safer life, and is soon weighed under caseloads of people and families that achieve visas only in the case of serious ill-health or the most dire of stories, voiced in interviews that match written testaments.

Charlie, another American, works for the Refugee Relief Project. A lawyer helping refugees prepare their applications for the UNHCR. He works tirelessly, hoping to help at least a few people find security in another country.

Aos, his translator, is his best friend and staunch protestor seeking revolution in Tahrir Square.

Finally, there is Dalia, an Iraqi stuck in Cairo without her husband. Her husband used to work for the Americans in Baghdad and for this he was tortured as a traitor. The Americans took him to Boston but because his marriage to Dalia was in a village and no papers were produced to mark the occasion, Dalia is not recognised as his wife and instead has to flee and hope her appeal to the UNHCR will allow her to follow him.

But Dalia is too ashamed of what she did to free her husband that her interview doesn’t back up the written statement applying for asylum. At least not according to Hana and her boss.

And so a complex dance between these four characters is set in motion. Each character bringing with them their own story marked by suffering and loss.

At the centre of the legal mess, are four people desperate to make connections with others and with their home. Dalia loves her husband. Charlie, inexplicably, loves Dalia and goes beyond legal measures to try and help her, embroiling Hana and Aos in his plot. He also loves Aos like the brother his own, a soldier fighting in Iraq, standing against everything Charlie thinks he stands for, is not. Hana is trying to make up for a past she had no control over, trying to make a connection to an Iraq she doesn’t even remember.

So whilst the pages fly in the quest to send Dalia into the arms of her husband, the complexity of human relationships with others, with God, and with a sense of home and a desire to express those feelings in a place of safety, force the reader into a minefield that not only expresses an understanding of privilege but also sees the parity of the human heart.

Live from Cairo is an impressive assault on the unfair nature of our world. The plot becomes painful and messy; the workings of bureaucracy are pertinently Kafkaesque.

Though I stumbled a little over some passages in the first chapter, each character breathed air I shared – no mean feat for such a diverse set of peoples.

This is a painful walk through the leftovers of war and it won’t appeal to everyone, but probably more of us should read it than might want to.

Those of you who follow the blog will know I said I was reviewing The Song of the Stork by Stephan Collishaw this week but I’m actually reviewing it the week after next as part of a blog tour (my mistake!). Later this week I’ll be reviewing Stronger than Skin by Stephen May, followed next week by The Blind Side by Jennie Ensor.

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