Ahmed Saber, Madinat Al-Ouzla (Isolation City), Cairo: Al-Maraya Publishing House, 2019, pp130
This is a dystopian novel set in a fantasy world of the future where an unusual epidemic has emerged in a large city whose principal effect is to make people sad and depressed and so results in astonishingly high rates of suicide. It is 2112, and this city’s plight has led to its isolation for fear the disease spreading elsewhere in the country.
Citizens, who are identified by numbers rather than names, are isolated with no internet, no transportation and no connection to the outside world. They are in the grip of a fanatic ruler who claims to be an intellectual showing his love and passion for arts and culture by naming the streets of the city and its cafés after such figures as Karl Marx.
The protagonist of the novel finds himself in this city with no memory or friends and he begins to roam around in search of answers, during which time he meets a woman, No.4001, who joins him on his quest. After they fall in love, he begins to remember some things about himself.
His name was Patrick, he is a novelist whose life went to pieces after his daughter died and his wife confessed to betraying him, leading to several suicide attempts.
Egyptian novelist Ahmed Saber won the Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House workshop award, headed by Amr Adli, in 2017, offering him the opportunity to publish his first novel, Hayat Ragol Mayet (The Life of a Dead Man) with the Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House in 2018. Isolation City is his second novel.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Madinat Al-Ouzla (Isolation City)