Friendly Fire, By Alaa al Aswany

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The Independent Culture

These 17 touching, tender and melancholy stories survey today's Egypt as a landscape of humiliation, submission and defeat. Bullied schoolkids, downtrodden workers, women in thrall to patrons and patriarchs: all inwardly rebel, outwardly surrender, and sometimes turn their quiet wrath on those even weaker than themselves.

In this stiffly hierarchical society, artfully captured by Humphrey Davies's translations, toilers and dreamers face a choice between submission and extinction, like the boy with a prosthetic leg who also suffers from "that Coptic look...burdened with guilt and distress".