“What Are You Doing in Berlin?”—a short story by Ahmed Awny

15 September, 2022,
Mohamed Rabie (b. Egypt 1986), “Hap­py Face,” mixed media on can­vas,  50x50cm (cour­tesy Gravi­ta Art Gallery).

 

Ahmed Awny

Trans­lat­ed from the Ara­bic by Rana Asfour

 

1

The scari­est thing about telling a lie is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that as soon as the words leave your mouth, you will end up believ­ing them. I should know. That’s exact­ly what hap­pened to me.

Four days ago, I lied to my room­mates that I had to return to Cairo on the pre­text of my father’s sud­den ill­ness, when in fact I had my sis­ter’s wed­ding to attend. Although I would have been more than appeased with a show of sym­pa­thy, and an acknowl­edge­ment of my dire and unen­vi­able cir­cum­stances, my friends’ sym­pa­thy not only relieved me of my turn to clean the house, but the cour­tesy was extend­ed to allow me to place a whole chick­en in our refrig­er­a­tor — which up until that moment had strict­ly been a meat-free zone.

And so it was that all I rat­tled on about was my father’s ail­ing health, as well as a fear that I might, for a myr­i­ad unfath­omable rea­sons, be arrest­ed at Cairo air­port as soon as I land­ed. I so wal­lowed in my feigned depres­sion and anx­i­ety that an actu­al dark­ness soon took hold of me, con­sum­ing my every thought that no num­ber of Insta­gram posts of smil­ing Egypt­ian friends cavort­ing in their swimwear, or any of their pho­tos tak­en against a back­drop of what appeared to be the same mun­dane Cairo I had left only a year ago, man­aged to alle­vi­ate. A place where one was nev­er too far from a rag­ing fire, inse­cure in the knowl­edge of whether its flames were primed for a fes­tive bar­beque or designed to con­sume and incin­er­ate one into oblivion.

Per­haps the most ter­ri­fy­ing facet of a lie is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that it self-ful­fills — ren­ders itself prophet­ic. Such is the arbi­trari­ness of life. At least that is how I felt on my way to the air­port. Although the taxi dri­ver was Ger­man (prefer­able to both the reck­less Turk or the Arab who will spend the trip curs­ing the infi­dels or try­ing to set me up with a menial job), he was also white, a skin tone that prophe­cied that the recur­rent ques­tion  — What are you doing in Berlin? — the one that you were nev­er cer­tain stemmed from a gen­uine curios­i­ty or a loi­ter­ing aggres­sion, would soon be forthcoming.

I closed my eyes feign­ing sleep. And yet, the unposed ques­tion played itself in my mind, in turn voiced by my father, my moth­er, my sis­ter, and then the wed­ding guests, tak­ing turns, one fad­ing before the next one appeared, like in a well-designed Insta­gram reel. Inces­sant­ly, I strived to for­mu­late the best answer. Suf­fer­ing? I knew I would gar­ner no sym­pa­thiz­ers with this rejoin­der, par­tic­u­lar­ly with those who still held on to the hope of one day flee­ing true suf­fer­ing in Cairo. Self-Dis­cov­ery? They all knew that it was the bull­shit of an excuse that I had used to make it to Berlin in the first place. That Berlin was like a com­fort­able bed in a hotel room, a refuge after years of anx­i­ety and rest­less­ness in Cairo, a place where I could enjoy saunas, drink beer out in the open, and wade naked in lakes? Recoil­ing from what is most like­ly the clos­est I’ll ever give to a truth­ful answer, I exclud­ed this one too.

It was then that I recalled my sister’s last let­ter — no sweet­er sav­ing grace, lend­ing cre­dence to my “alleged” anxiety:

“Clean up your phone. Don’t exag­ger­ate. Make sure you go over every­thing on there. They just arrest­ed Sha­di at the air­port for com­ment­ing on a post on someone’s feed about tor­ture at one of the precincts.”

I swal­lowed the Xanax pill that I had been sav­ing for my arrival at Cairo Inter­na­tion­al Air­port, and closed my eyes again. Now, with my imag­i­na­tion in full swing, the ques­tion of what I was doing in Berlin turned sin­is­ter and accusato­ry as I imag­ined it hurled at me by some offi­cer at pass­port con­trol. My pan­ic now tru­ly jus­ti­fied, I texted some of my friends that had been back to Cairo and gone through secu­ri­ty inspec­tion, what it was that I was sup­posed to do to avoid detain­ment and what it meant not to exag­ger­ate in clean­ing up my phone. Let’s just say that it doesn’t help much when your friends are most­ly intel­lec­tu­als, lovers of lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy. As such, one explained that I should con­ceive of the offi­cer as a guest, and my phone as a house and that my job was to con­vince the offi­cer that I, by default, kept a clean and tidy home at all times because I was, nat­u­ral­ly, a clean and tidy per­son. There­fore, if the offi­cer were to be met with the over­pow­er­ing smell of deter­gents from the exag­ger­at­ed clean­ing, it would trig­ger his sus­pi­cions that I was most like­ly try­ing to hide some­thing. Anoth­er friend ambigu­ous­ly insin­u­at­ed that it was less sus­pi­cious to hug a per­son after a long day being out­doors than one smelling of sham­poo, and yet anoth­er left me with the sage, yet disin­gen­u­ous, advice to “use my brain cells and fig­ure it out.”

Why did I leave Egypt? Because I could no longer stand fear and hope coex­ist­ing in the same space, occu­py­ing the same moment in time. Even chil­dren, obsessed with amuse­ment parks, couldn’t stom­ach a roller coast­er every morn­ing on an emp­ty stom­ach. And why should I go back to a place where the “clean­li­ness” of a phone could come between the free­dom of enjoy­ing a sis­ter’s wed­ding and impris­on­ment for an indef­i­nite num­ber of years? Assailed by so many ques­tions going through my head, I dis­em­barked from the taxi and sat next to my bags at the entrance to Berlin air­port try­ing to “clean” my phone, know­ing the absur­di­ty of the task. OK! I told myself, a thor­ough clean­ing is sus­pi­cious so I won’t delete any apps, search his­to­ry, and pho­tos as I had intend­ed. But what about mes­sages with activists, artists and writ­ers? Do I wipe their exis­tence from my con­tact list, remind­ed that so-and-so had been inves­ti­gat­ed for mere­ly being on his detained friend’s con­tact list? And which key­word do I look for that could put me at risk? Where does one begin to explain why they would view dai­ly videos of pris­on­ers in Egypt while sit­ting in the park? Pan­icked, all I could think of was one thing: What was I doing in Berlin?

Luck­i­ly, the Xanax pill I’d tak­en in the taxi final­ly kicked in. A lit­tle calmer now, I took hold of my bag and head­ed to the air­line reas­sur­ing myself that inter­ro­ga­tions such as the ones I had been con­jur­ing up in my mind were a rar­i­ty, and that I was far removed from being a per­son of inter­est to any gov­ern­ment. Besides, I told myself in a final bid that lay to rest all remain­ing anx­i­eties, Egypt was a coun­try that allowed for free­dom of exit and entry. Wasn’t it the soon-to-be host of the upcom­ing Inter­na­tion­al Cli­mate Summit?

That all held true until the next moment when I received a text mes­sage from a friend, recent­ly released from jail, telling me that he’d heard from my sis­ter that I was head­ed to Cairo, and insist­ing that we meet. I imag­ined what would hap­pen, if this text, or one sim­i­lar to it from any oth­er friend, were to arrive just as the offi­cer at the Cairo air­port was engaged in check­ing the “clean­li­ness” of my phone — I stood still and all I could think of was how only a fool would think to clean his house in the midst of a rag­ing sandstorm.

 

2

I live in a house with six oth­er peo­ple who all believe that my stay in Berlin is fund­ed by an Egypt­ian insti­tu­tion whilst I com­plete my nov­el. Alham­dullilah, I am the only Egypt­ian, oth­er­wise my evenings, this past year, would have been spent weep­ing with nos­tal­gia. Two of my room­mates are Arab, and as such were the only ones awake when I made it home by dawn.

Zain is Pales­tin­ian, and like me, a rebel at heart; he con­tin­ues to use plas­tic shop­ping bags, against the wish­es of the oth­er res­i­dents. How­ev­er, we’ve had a strained rela­tion­ship ever since the night he told me about his father. Born in Ger­many, both father and son insist that their stay in this coun­try is inter­im until a return to their home­land is secure. I blew up in his face, angry at his words and with their atti­tude — and most like­ly angry at myself — lash­ing out that a man should take a stand and decide once and for all where he is to be, oth­er­wise one risks wast­ing one’s entire life locked with­in, and con­fined to, a state of per­ma­nent temporariness.

Has­san, the oth­er Arab, is a Syr­i­an writer who has man­aged to receive every writ­ing grant that has been denied me. He has now start­ed end­ing every argu­ment with “…because of Putin” rea­son­ing that all future grants will now be allo­cat­ed to the Ukrain­ian refugees. We’ve actu­al­ly become stronger friends since he start­ed wor­ry­ing about his future. How­ev­er, my feel­ings have changed towards him. I har­bor a shame­ful feel­ing of resent­ment — maybe even hatred — towards Has­san that bur­rows far deep­er than grants and sem­i­nars. It most like­ly start­ed to seep in when I accom­pa­nied him to one of the Syr­i­an demon­stra­tions here in Berlin. While I was com­mit­ted to shed­ding tears over the Syr­i­an tragedy, I was equal­ly amazed at the feroc­i­ty of their chants, in Ger­man. It was as if with the loss of their homes, their roofs in Syr­ia, the sky was indeed their lim­it and their resound­ing chants of “We Are Here, Deal With It” was not only for the ben­e­fit of the Ger­mans, but also for the Syr­i­ans them­selves who were draw­ing a clear line between their past and their future.

It was two days after this demon­stra­tion, if I’m to be exact, that my hatred for Has­san real­ly cement­ed itself as I con­tem­plat­ed join­ing a silent Egypt­ian march call­ing for the release of Egypt’s polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. I stood on the side­walk try­ing to iden­ti­fy the par­tic­i­pants and failed. Every one of them had con­cealed their iden­ti­ty under hats and wigs, with some hid­ing behind black glass­es and coro­na masks. I may have spent half an hour try­ing to iden­ti­fy indi­vid­u­als by observ­ing details on their hands or the way they moved their body. I left soon after real­iz­ing that I was stand­ing right by the embassy infor­mants who were wait­ing for any one of the par­tic­i­pants to remove their mask — even if momen­tar­i­ly to catch a breath of fresh air — so they could record their face on their phone camera.

I walked twelve kilo­me­ters that day. And although, unlike any oth­er day, I had fore­sak­en my head­phones, a beau­ti­ful tune from a title sequence of a pro­gram on immi­grants that we had watched as chil­dren, rang in my ears in a tor­ment­ing loop:

Egypt is with you, it nev­er for­gets you,
To the end of the uni­verse, Egypt is with you!

Any­way, I ignored both Zain and Has­san and head­ed straight to my room to sleep, but not before I made sure to book a next-day flight to Cairo. I would still make it in time for my sister’s wedding.

This morn­ing, I’ve wok­en up and come to a deci­sion that I feel cer­tain will put an end to my dis­com­bob­u­lat­ed dis­qui­et regard­ing Egypt­ian bor­der con­trol. My plan is to imme­di­ate­ly set about writ­ing an arti­cle, a sto­ry, a nov­el or any pro­fan­i­ty that would ren­der me cul­prit for air­ing out my country’s dirty laun­dry.  It was the only way I could think of  to val­i­date my anx­i­ety. This was way bet­ter than step­ping in blind­ly into the murky waters of spec­u­la­tion. This way I would in fact have a sol­id rea­son onto which I could teth­er my fear and face bor­der con­trol agents pre­pared. I fig­ured the piece needn’t have any lit­er­ary or polit­i­cal val­ue. All it need­ed to include was any­thing and every­thing I had thought sus­pi­cious enough to erase from my phone.

How­ev­er, in the time it took to make my morn­ing cof­fee, my “bril­liant” idea had lost much of its intial momen­tum, com­plete­ly fiz­zling away to noth­ing by the time I glimpsed Thomas head­ing out for his dai­ly run. Thomas, a Ger­man, is flu­ent in Eng­lish, and had at some point worked in the Mid­dle East. He was some­one I was com­fort­able enough with to share my occa­sion­al deri­sion of the Ger­mans. He seemed gen­uine­ly impressed with every­thing I said, his goofy char­i­ta­ble smile always at the ready. And yet, even I knew that it would be a hard sell to con­vince him, let alone any­one else, of the like­li­hood that an Egypt­ian offi­cer at a busy air­port would ran­dom­ly stum­ble across the work that I want­ed them to catch. Besides, how was one to gauge what oth­ers would find offen­sive? Wasn’t it pre­sump­tu­ous to assume that all offi­cers thought alike? What tran­gres­sion would have to appear on my phone that  would be enough for the offi­cer to restrict my return to my own coun­try, and in the process pro­vide me with a legit­i­mate cause to apply for asy­lum in Germany?

I knocked on Hassan’s door to invite him out for shawar­ma. Our famil­iar rit­u­al usu­al­ly includ­ed Has­san hurl­ing insults at passers­by, in Ara­bic, and fling­ing his cig­a­rette stubs into the air when he was done smok­ing. He’d grum­ble at how much Ger­man he could hear on the streets of Berlin spo­ken by these “west­ern­ers” before he’d launch into out­ra­geous­ly loud singing. Today, I told myself, I would set aside my shame at his behav­ior and go along with his ridicu­lous, juve­nile and harm­less rebel­lion. I would refrain from my usu­al request for him to low­er his voice and my inces­sant instruc­tions that he show respect to the natives so that they, in return, may grant us the same favor.

But some­thing was dif­fer­ent  today. For starters, Has­san nei­ther called out to me to enter the room nor mocked me for my habit of knock­ing as polite as the Ger­mans. Instead, he flung open the door, and from the thresh­old, brusque­ly asked me why I had not board­ed the plane and returned home. I answered him with the truth. At least half a truth. I explained about by pan­ic attack, adding that my father’s health had improved sig­nif­i­cant­ly which meant there had been no need for my ini­tial haste. Hassan’s response was swift and bit­ing. Con­grat­u­la­tions to your sis­ter! he said. Stunned into silence, all I could do was look at him as he explained how he’d reached out to my sis­ter on Face­book, wor­ried how upset I had been at my father’s fail­ing health. He derid­ed my deceit, and expressed his dis­be­lief at how, by doing what I had done, I had treat­ed him as if her were one of the ‘for­eign­ers” before he slammed the door shut in my face. Hon­est­ly, I could bare­ly keep up with what he had been say­ing, for all I could see in my mind’s eye were the crest­fall­en faces of my fam­i­ly when they learnt of my decep­tion. I imag­ined a sick­ened father, ail­ing because of his son’s misdeed.

 

3

I woke up from my nap thank­ful for Berlin. As opposed to Cairo, no amount of ten­sion in Berlin, it seemed, could barge in on my sleep. I decid­ed that it was high time to devel­op my rela­tion­ship with this city beyond the con­fines of my room, and in exchange for her love and under­stand­ing I would learn to speak her lan­guage and do away, once and for all with the uneasi­ness that had held me back for a year — that this city could one day replace that oth­er. I still held on to my tick­et to Cairo, my place on the flight reserved, but the glim­mer of this city’s prospects out­shone the decrepit gloomy past I want­ed to leave behind.

And so, instead of call­ing my sis­ter to apol­o­gize, I found myself remem­ber­ing the ridicu­lous remark she had made the night I left, which sud­den­ly felt like an insult — one that had tak­en a year to ful­ly kick in: Ger­man women won’t give you the time of day. They’re all taller than you are,” she’d said. Bristling at the remark and eager to prove my sis­ter wrong, I reached for my phone, and reac­ti­vat­ed my Tin­der account mak­ing sure to add my height (1.66cm) to my pro­file, re-ignit­ing the chal­lenge that I had once har­bored, that I could attract a Berlin­er, a native Ger­man, a woman who did not speak Eng­lish, or work in art or cul­ture or as an asy­lum attor­ney, or held a mas­ter’s degree in pol­i­tics or anthro­pol­o­gy, and one who refrained from the banal redun­dan­cy of affix­ing an entire world to a con­ver­sa­tion turned to Arabs, as though the Arab world were an exot­ic, mag­i­cal dimen­sion. The woman I sought was some­one like the super­mar­ket cashier, who com­plains at the grow­ing line behind me because of how slow I am pack­ing my shop­ping items into the cloth bag I’ve brought with me; or her col­league who I’d asked for assis­tance in locat­ing the tea aisle, and to whom I owe spend­ing two weeks in a con­stant state of drowsi­ness thanks to the relax­ing tea I mis­tak­en­ly picked up; or some­one like the wait­ress at the bar, who blabbed a total para­graph that I couldn’t trans­late quick enough but hand­ed her my cred­it card any­way, and the same goes for her fel­low bar mates who took my hun­dred euros in response to anoth­er total bar­rage I again failed to trans­late. I want­ed women like the ones lin­ing up at bar entrances or ath­letes in the park. And I may not know much, but what I am cer­tain of is that lan­guage, not height, is what comes between me and those women.

After ran­dom­ly swip­ing right, I grew anx­ious at the wait for a response, no mat­ter how much I tried to busy myself with oth­er things. So, while mak­ing sure to keep an eye con­stant­ly on the phone I head­ed to Thomas’s door.

— “What’s the name of the club that you keep on about? The one you say that no one can call them­selves a true Berlin­er unless they’ve been there?” I asked.

—“The Berghain. Let’s go!” he answered, almost immediately.

It turned out we couldn’t just go direct­ly to the club. First Thomas ran a black kohl pen­cil lin­er over each of my upper eye­lids, draw­ing a line across each one that extend­ed all the way to each ear. With thoughts of height and lan­guage long dis­si­pat­ed from my thoughts, we head­ed to a sec­ond hand store, where in between try­ing on one out­ra­geous out­fit after anoth­er, Thomas explained how there was no one look that guar­an­teed its wear­er entry into the Berghain. The only cer­tain thing was that the club had an aver­sion to tourists, celebri­ties, vagabonds, or mar­ried cou­ples. Beyond that, every­one else was welcomed.

— “The idea,” Thomas explained look­ing over an out­fit I’d just worn, “is to dis­card your usu­al prep­py bank-teller look, while mak­ing sure you don’t come across as though you’re try­ing too hard either.”

Despite the dis­parag­ing dig at my appear­ance, I was hav­ing a good time and for the first time our con­ver­sa­tion did not turn into a cul­tur­al exchange in which I would have had to explain that, in Cairo, we were nev­er giv­en the free­dom to dress as we pleased. Instead, I jok­ing­ly com­ment­ed on his baf­fling choice to con­stant­ly dress in black when there was noth­ing in Berlin that required one to dress as if one were expect­ing a dai­ly funeral.

It was here, in this moment, that for the first time, Thomas and I seemed to bond and where, with his bless­ing, I final­ly bought a black sheer top with a cut out that laid bare the left side of my chest.

Despite my friend’s warn­ing, as indeed I now con­sid­ered Thomas to be, that I might yet be denied entry into the club, I stood con­fi­dent­ly in the near­ly kilo­me­ter-long line, check­ing out the eager­ly await­ing rev­ellers as they whiled away the wait drink­ing and, in turn, eye­ing each other.

—“It seems to me,” Thomas was say­ing, “that the choice of who’s allowed entry into the club has noth­ing to do with who the guest is. It’s about cre­at­ing a mix­ture that guar­an­tees a fun night for every­one. So, they’ll let in an Amer­i­can tourist, but then they’ll deny two oth­ers after him, for every woman in a dress they allow a man with an ear pierc­ing, and the ratio of sin­gle men to sin­gle women has …”

Thomas’s words trailed off, as I was star­tled by a sav­age grip that claimed my shoul­der. Although I had yet to turn around to iden­ti­fy the per­son that the hand belonged to, I was in no doubt that it had come from a fel­low Cairenes. Zainab, with phone in hand, snapped a pho­to of us, before she launched her­self at me for a hug, which I awk­ward­ly rec­i­p­ro­cat­ed see­ing only a bra cov­ered her oth­er­wise exposed chest. As she with­drew from our embrace, she took a long look at my clothes.

—“With clothes like these,” she com­ment­ed with her usu­al sar­casm, “you’ve hit the point of no return. There’s no going back from this. Ever.”

I think I either con­grat­u­lat­ed her on the com­ple­tion of her asy­lum pro­ceed­ings, or per­haps I blab­bered some­thing about not hav­ing made my mind up yet about set­tling in Berlin. I don’t remem­ber specif­i­cal­ly. I final­ly escaped out of the line with the excuse of want­i­ng to get more beer. I was sweat­ing pro­fuse­ly which prob­a­bly meant my black eye­lin­er would soon be run­ning down in streaks all over my cheeks. I could detect a smell of dirt and dust in the air that hadn’t been there before. When I returned, Thomas had his goofy smile back on his face, but by now I was total­ly detached from any advice he was giv­ing me on how I should main­tain an aloof demeanor, so I wouldn’t seem too eager to get into the club and yet not so much so that the bounc­ers would mis­take it for cal­lous­ness. He had no idea that my entire atten­tion was fix­at­ed on Zainab, who was strut­ting towards the bounc­er, in her usu­al defi­ant stride, an atti­tude I rec­og­nized well and one she adopt­ed to push up against author­i­ty of any kind. Snap­shots of her in demon­stra­tions we had par­tic­i­pat­ed in togeth­er flashed across my vision, before she dis­ap­peared from my view as the bounc­er stepped aside to let her in.

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment Thomas stopped his mono­logu­ous del­uge of advice but when he did, he placed a hand on my shoul­der, and whether it was because he tru­ly believed my father was sick, or because he knew from Has­san that he wasn’t or mere­ly for some­thing else to say, he impart­ed the finest wis­dom he had giv­en me that night, bor­rowed from a Ger­man proverb, which implied that a ter­ri­ble end was bet­ter than an ongo­ing tragedy.

I admit that I did not pay heed to his words, because at that moment all I was real­ly intent on was find­ing a way into the club. I want­ed to catch up with Zainab before she went and post­ed our pic­ture on Insta­gram, des­per­ate to come up with any excuse oth­er than the truth of how incrim­i­nat­ing it would seem if it were to be seen by those who knew me in Egypt. Agi­tat­ed to the extreme, my recourse was to swal­low the LSD stick­er my friend offered me, ignor­ing his advice to wait until we had at least man­aged to enter the club.

 

4

What a dis­ap­point­ment it’s been to find that noth­ing has changed my view of Berlin, even whilst high on a psy­che­del­ic drug, or is that, I won­der, because I nev­er real­ly knew the city to begin with?

Every­thing around me appeared the same. From the green­ery of the trees to the thick accent of those around me. I heard nei­ther music, nor smelt any­thing in the streets except shawar­ma. But then, I began to feel dif­fer­ent. Could it be that I had grown taller? A meter taller at least? I must have because I was now hav­ing to bend down to pass beneath the city’s bridges. And was that a per­fect com­mand of Ger­man I was expe­ri­enc­ing as I car­ried out my first Tin­der con­ver­sa­tion with a Ger­man woman? It must have been because here she is, in the flesh, guid­ing me into her house, which I have man­aged to get to with­out the need for a Google map search, as if I had always known the city’s streets off by heart. But wait! Who is that short man sit­ting on the sofa? And how can one gram­mat­i­cal error made in one lan­guage, come to mean that what had been promised between two, should now be con­sum­mat­ed among three?

 

5

Once more, I am in a taxi head­ed to the air­port. Rem­nants of the heady high from the night before have yet to leave my body. Taller or short­er no longer mat­ters. I’ll soon dis­cov­er my true size and worth once I reach my final des­ti­na­tion. I have erased noth­ing from my phone. As truths mix in with fab­ri­cat­ed lies, and real­i­ty gets lost with­in an envis­aged night­mare, it mat­ters not whether I return for a sister’s wed­ding or a father’s ill­ness. I now believe I may be return­ing for both.

 And, as if on cue, as the car speeds towards its des­ti­na­tion, the dri­ver turns around to ask me what I’m doing in Berlin while I, in turn, remain sus­pend­ed between two answers, both truth­ful lies: Am I refugee or a tem­porar­i­ly pass­ing vis­i­tor?

 

asylumBerlinCairoexileimmigrationpermanent temporariness

Ahmed Awny is an Egyptian writer and literary editor who recently relocated to Berlin. In his work, he explores masculinity, heroism, social change, and Egyptian subcultures. His works include a collection of short stories Chronic Anxiety (2010). His debut novel Prizes for Heroes was awarded the Sawiris Foundation Prize for Literature (2020). His new nonfiction book In the Factory of Men, reflecting on his position on his sister's romantic relationships, is set to be published in Arabic in January 2023.

Rana Asfour is a freelance writer, book critic and translator. Her work has appeared in such publications as Madame Magazine, The Guardian UK and The National/UAE. She blogs at BookFabulous.com and is TMR's Book Editor, culling and assigning new titles for review. Rana also chairs the TMR English-language BookGroup, which meets online the last Sunday of every month. She tweets @bookfabulous.

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[…] this issue’s cen­ter­piece from Egypt­ian writer Ahmed Awny, “What Are You Doing in Berlin?” divi­gates between fic­tion and real­i­ty in his decentering […]