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The City Always Wins

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We've been doing the same thing for hundreds of years. Marching, fighting, chanting, dying, changing, winning, losing, marching, fighting, chanting, dying, marching, chanting, planning, failing, fighting, marching, marching, fighting, fighting . This time will be different. This time the future can still be made new.

This is a revolution. On the streets and in the clubs of Cairo, a political uprising is fermenting that will change the course of modern history. Mariam and Khalil, young activists and film-makers committed to their ideals, are swept up in a blaze of revolutionary fervour that will change their lives for ever.

Omar Robert Hamilton's extraordinary debut captures the feverish intensity and trauma of one of the century's defining uprisings: the 2011 Egyptian revolution. From the euphoria of mass protests to the chilling silence of the morgue, The City Always Wins is a hugely ambitious novel of breathless, dazzling scope. In this electric sketch of a vibrant city - alive and teeming with political unrest - Cairo is both the backdrop and focus of the novel, as the author crafts unbearably vivid images with a filmmaker's voracious eye. With razor-sharp dialogue and unforgettable characters, The City Always Wins is the only book that allows readers to pierce to the bloody heart of this uprising.

Arrestingly visual, piercingly lyrical, and intensely political, this is the definitive novel of the Arab Spring channelling the voices of those who were really there. Brave, raw, and urgently contemporary, Omar Robert Hamilton looks set to become the defining voice of his generation.

303 pages, Hardcover

First published June 13, 2017

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 143 reviews
Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews321 followers
August 7, 2017
History changes as invisibly as the future, though more painfully in having tasted what is lost.

The City Always Wins is astonishing, intelligent throughout and alternately inspiring and saddening, a novel of the Egyptian Arab Spring that covers the macro tides and currents of the movement's development while also painting a beautiful micro narrative of two young people swept up in the wave. It recounts and reflects on the difficult relationship between revolution and democracy; chaos and governance; generational and class friction; change and order. It examines the push to maintain hope and raise a voice and stand up and be counted, versus the insidious infliction of fear and intimidation to silence and oppression for security: tools of regimes of varying political and religious stripes but all are tigers clawing at control and power. I'd give this 4.5 stars, and round up to 5 stars: it's one of the best debut novels I've read in some time.
This is a louder, darker, more brash and more urgent cousin to many of the immigrant stories proliferating at the moment: this is about pressing forward for progress and justice when the political landscape is shifting beneath your feet, how raw anger and energy and emotion are either channeled into change or ruthlessly thwarted and crushed. And it's very specifically Egyptian in character, though the ideas and ideals of revolution or change are very universal and relevant to many current debates and situations across the world today.

You need discipline to win a war. You need chaos to win an insurgency. So which are we?

I didn’t know you, but I knew we were together in this, that we have stood together, night after night, regime after regime. We stood together, we failed together. We die apart.

Hamilton's novel is not simply a recounting of recent history. It's a human story, focused on Mariam and Khalil and their friends at Chaos, surging forward with the power of the street and doing what they can to document, to demand change and justice, but being slowly worn down with each new martyrdom, shooting, rape. Mariam and Khalil's young, impassioned love follows a parallel track, and we watch as the fate of an ancient nation and the fates of our protagonists and their affection and passion are tied and tested. Omar Robert Hamilton shifts perspective predominantly between Mariam and Khalil, though we also move into the eyes and emotions of the parents and loved ones of the murdered and the missing, rounding out the very human elements of a dark, depressing chapter of recent history. The writing is raw and dynamic, vacillating between profound observations and casual dialogue amongst friends to the stream of consciousness one feels in a moment of crisis, punctuated by true headlines from 2011-2013 and various Tweets of facts and rumors and fears of the time.

We’ve done it to ourselves. This cycle of horror. Each scene has to be more shocking than the last. Then they care for fifteen minutes until the next horror horrifies them. And how many horrors until people have to just switch off ?”

How many waves of outrage must we spark to reignite the revolution? How many last breaths will we auction off to the breathless internet? If a revolution’s fuel is death, then what will be its end?

There's a rebuke for the Western audience as well, the one that expresses horror and demands action about and consumes content on a given crisis for a finite period, then moves on to the next catastrophe of Third World brown people, as though we don't have the attention span, the empathetic capacity, the bandwidth to care for more than one sad sob story at a time. Which certainly our news programs and water cooler conversations reflect this, hopping from Egypt to Syria in terms of nations in turmoil, actions of ISIS and Boko Haram displacing those of Al-Qaeda and Joseph Kony, every now and again allowing space for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and plight of the Sudanese and the Somalians to resurface. I too am guilty: following the events from Mubarak to the military to Morsi, but once Sisi's stranglehold over the nation took place, my attention wandered to other nations with old and new problems.

The triumph of it all is the vanquishing of imagination. There can be nothing new. No new music is imaginable, no new genre, no new memories to repackage and sell, no new stories or ideas or possibilities, no new happinesses. There is only nostalgia and kitsch and superheroes and heartbreak and a sealed fate and surrender. There is no reality other than this one and no past that wasn’t marching toward it. They call it progress. It is undeniable, they tell us, it is all-conquering, it is this and it is now. The world is made.

Hamilton's writing is confident and unconventional: shifting perspective abruptly and sometimes without much of a page break, jumping forward in time, marking changing circumstances and major moments by text, by Tweet, by headline. And yet somehow all of it works, sometimes discordant notes coming together as a beautiful melody. The description is detailed, but never languid or lush, instead infused with a constant urgency, uncertainty, tension; the overall effect being captivated but taught as a bow string. The dialogue is smart, snappy, yet sounds authentic: how the characters address each other is as important as what they say. Hamilton also employs strategic repetition in his descriptions, for emphasis and subversion of previously laid out ideas, as well as a rhetorical type of device that calls to mind some famous Arabic songs also known for their power of telling and retelling. Hamilton's gift as a writer is to bring this chaotic situation to life, imbue his characters with real emotion and action and indecision and fear, and explain and show the complexity to a less well-initiated audience, while also being able to fully inhabit and speak about and from multiple Egyptian perspectives with authority. And it helps that he simply has talent to spare:

Cairo is jazz: all contrapuntal influences jostling for attention, occasionally brilliant solos standing high above the steady rhythm of the street. New York may say that New York is jazz, but the whole history of the world can be seen from here, flows past us here, in the Nile streaming from its genesis north and out into the waters of empires and all the brutalities and beauties they bring, emerging riotous and discordant and defiant into something new and undefinable and uncontrollable. These streets laid out to echo the order and ratio and martial management of the modern city now molded by the tireless rhythms of salesmen and hawkers and car horns and gas peddlers all out in ownership of their city, mixing pasts with their present, birthing a new now of south and north, young and old, country and city all combining and coming out loud and brash and with a beauty incomprehensible. Yes, Cairo is jazz. Not lounge jazz, not the commodified lobby jazz that works to blanch history, but the heat of New Orleans and gristle of Chicago: the jazz that is beauty in the destruction of the past, the jazz of an unknown future, the jazz that promises freedom from the bad old times.

Overall, I found this to be a bold, ambitious debut, well-written, enlightening and entertaining and enraging at various times. Omar Robert Hamilton is someone I'll keep an eye on after this auspicious first novel. I highly recommend this for people who like diverse contemporary fiction, and readers who like to follow first time authors and begin tracing possible paths from their early work. On the basis of The City Always Wins, I'm thinking (and hoping) this is the start of a very fruitful career in fiction.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,339 followers
June 18, 2017
Sometimes you appreciate a novel more than you enjoy reading it. The City Always Wins is important and well written, but it didn't always work for me. I'm still giving it 4 stars for its strengths. The novel takes place over a few years in the very recent past in Egypt. It is told primarily from the perspective of Khalil who grew up in the United States and whose father is Palestinian. It opens in Egypt in 2011, where Khalil and his girlfriend Mariam are fully engaged in the Arab spring. The perspective is very subjective, depicting Khalil's flitting perceptions and emotions. The story also moves almost in a staccato rhythm from one moment to another. As the revolution progresses, optimism transforms into fear, frustration and discouragement. Khalil's perspective is vividly contrasted with Mariam's who is steadfast in her beliefs. This is an important book because it not only deals with an important chapter in Egyptian history, but it also feels like it depicts the life of political revolution more generally. There are moments of absolute brilliance when I felt completely submerged in Khalil's reality. But I did get lost in what felt at times like an impressionistic staccato. Because I felt engaged in the story, at times I would have wanted more straightforward information about what was happening and how the characters fit in with each other. Still, it's a potent book about an important topic. I suspect many readers will love the approach while others will find it off putting -- I'm somewhere in the middle. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Puck.
647 reviews299 followers
February 6, 2019
“It will start with a bomb and there will be no escape.”

Tough, bleak and yet so inspiring: The City Always Wins draws the reader right into the frenzy of the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Similar to Les Miserables you follow people fighting for freedom and justice, and yet from the start you feel how that battle will end.

Khalid and his girlfriend Mariam run with a group of journalists the podcast @ChaosCairo, broadcasting the frenzied revolts in Cairo to the world. President Mubarak, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood all fight for power and control, while the hopeful citizens cry for democracy on Tahrir Square.
Yet losing Mubarak doesn’t settle the violent unrests. With the memory of young martyrs in mind, Mariam and others keep fighting a system that turns out too corrupt to kill.

"How many waves of outrage must we spark to reignite the revolution? How many last breaths will we auction off to the breathless internet? If a revolution’s fuel is death, then what will be its end?"

The writing style of debuting author Omar Hamilton perfectly conveys the revolution’s energy and confusion: major moments are captured in a headline or a Tweet, sudden time-jumps, or abruptly switches in perspective. When you have to run from bullets and tear gas, you too lose sight of who or where you are.
The writing also feels like a call out to Western audiences: without getting new horrific images or news on your newsfeeds, you all forget Egypt’s fight. And isn’t that the painful truth?

That devastating reality made reading this book so harrowing: you see everyone in Cairo fight so hard, and in turn they are thrown in prison, tortured or raped by the military, or end up dead in a moratorium. In Les Mis Marius ends with empty chairs, and our journalists… passion and love can only hold out for so long.

What a bold and powerful debut. Hamilton’s cousin Alaa Abd El-Fattah was his main source, and that knowledge have cost him his freedom.
So no, reading this heart-wrenching book brought me no joy, but what an important story it tells. 5 stars
Profile Image for Joanne Harris.
Author 91 books5,665 followers
January 6, 2018
Tough, bleak and relentless, this book won't be for everyone. I found it challenging, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and in many ways, necessary - we have all, after all, watched these events from the safety of our TV screens, but this glimpse into the reality of the events of 2011 is a wholly different - and wholly uncomfortable - experience. But I can't say I enjoyed any of it, though I'm sure that wasn't the intention. I'm glad I read it, and I admire the writer's talent, but I could have wished for some light in the unremitting bleakness, and, to my eyes at least, there was no light to be found.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,020 reviews1,961 followers
April 11, 2017
A well-constructed and important story, even though I didn't love the writing style all that much. Full review to come.
Profile Image for 新新 Xin-Xin .
588 reviews67 followers
July 8, 2020
因為聽了轉角國際的重磅一頁書,所以在 Scribd 上找了這本《The City Always Wins》的有聲書來聽,就如同這集 podcast 中兩位主持人聊到的,聽著聽著不免��到香港和太陽花

近五年來外國越來越多這類,以各項社會運動為背景的 docudrama (劇情式紀錄片),主角可能是虛構人物,但中間的社會事件和時間軸基本上都是按照實際的社運背景來跑,整本書看完好像也跟著重新走了一次埃及的阿拉伯之春(雖然心情很沉重)


還有後來多數一起抗爭的朋友不是被射殺就是坐牢,而他們除了發推出 podcast 之外,感覺到一種不知該如何支援夥伴,如何繼續走下去。同樣的故事太多,推倒了穆巴拉克,來了穆斯林兄弟會,最後軍政府上台,又回到強人統治。

主持人分享因為那時候美國脫口秀主持人訪問過幾個社運領袖,所以他也追蹤了好幾年對方的 FB 及推特帳號��但大家都逐漸沉寂,這種反省和懊悔還有無以為繼,是不是就是長大的樣子,我們的國家到底有沒有因此成了更好的地方呢?會不會最好的結局其實在最燦爛的時刻死在街上呢?
Profile Image for Sébastien.
164 reviews36 followers
April 22, 2021
The City Always Wins is a novel by Omar Robert Hamilton about the front line of 2011 Uprising in Cairo, Egypt. The story centres Mariam and Khalil who actively participate in the revolution and along with their group of friends, their attempts to remove the dictator and their fight against the brutality of the army and police force are told in a very compelling narrative.

Motivated by their purposes and burned by the injustice and inhumane treatment by the army, Khalil and Mariam along with their friends take various roles in the revolution. They protests in the streets, support the medic team and help the families of the fallen ones. With a team of photographers, videographers, writers and translators, they put up news and podcast on their platform and share the information across various social media sites. As the revolution progresses over the years and the striation doesn’t play out as they wish to, their hope and dreams change into fear and frustration. One by one, they lost their friends and the optimism Khalil holds onto becomes discouragement. Mariam continues her fight without wavering from her dedication for the voices of the lost heroes. When the revolution continues with very little success, the argument between friends for different ideologies form.

It is such a riveting read and hits close to home with whats happening in Myanmar. The writer let the reader walk in the shoes of those protestors as well as in their hearts. Various people play different roles in these revolutions and the painful part of their stories are told through sorrow, fear, guilt, and traumas they encounter. Parents losing their child mourning for them everyday constantly thing with several ‘should’ves’ in their head. Friends losing their friends during the protests thinking with ‘what ifs’ theories running in their heads. The traumatic death and torture of other people they witness during the strikes haunt them through many sleepless night. Helpers not being able to help or not being able to do enough for those in need. The survivor’s guilt. Each is portrayed with fitting use of euphemistic expressions.

When they start having doubts on their plans and questioning on their cause, different views are presented through the characters craftily and succinctly. The poetic proses that describe when one character is yearning for someone who has died or missing, they are too beautiful. The long sentences are used when the character is protesting or running for their life, or introspecting for the traumatic events they have encountered. As I read such prolong sentences, I was equally breathless as the character. Interlacing with the tweets and the news headlines of the actual event timeline, it is a very interesting read and exhausting, as well. It is also an important read, too, with the writer’s ingenious narrative.
139 reviews
April 28, 2017
Maybe it's my inner revolutionary but I thought this book was amazing. It details the hardships of war, revolution, and dictatorships. It starts off with the Egyptian revolution in 2011, and details the struggles of two main revolutionaries, Miriam and Khalil. While they start off as a couple together, they slowly begin to drift apart as Miriam becomes more reactionary and Khalil seems to become more disillusioned. The author takes us on a journey through the excitement and hope of a new beginning when the revolution starts, through anger at the prosecution and torture of activists, and the slow disillusionment with society and the revolution when interest begins to wane and peoples opinions begin to shift.

You need discipline to win a war. You need chaos to win an insurgency. So which are we?

I felt like this line says it all. This is the underlying question they seem to ask themselves as the story progresses.

They fight the Army, the Muslim brotherhood, dictators and each other. While the writing can be a little frantic at times, I felt it fit with the story. The story is about revolution. Revolutions are by nature frantic. How do you keep things moving forward when the media loses interest, when the people lose interest? How do you keep moving forward when your whole identity is wrapped up in revolution? It was a fascinating and relevant story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thank you to the publishers for making this available to me through netgalley.
Profile Image for Surabhi Chatrapathy.
101 reviews28 followers
October 30, 2018
At end of every page in this book, I took a step back and let the words settle in.
Written through the minds of those who were at the forefront of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, this book will leave you unnerved, and wounded.
If you have only read of wars, revolutions, insurgencies in papers and books but never had to experience it, read this book.
It makes you experience the revolution.
The psychological upheaval, the emotional trauma and physical strain. I can close my eyes now and smell the morgue, feel the fear pulsating through my body, rage and frustrations guiding my steps.
It takes immense grit, conviction and commitment to the memory of the lives lost, to write a book like this.
Can you imagine losing loved loves in a revolution, believing they didn't die in vain, that their death will be met with justice, to only then witness that their memory is buried in internet photos, posts and podcasts alone?
To loose every fiber of your being in the crusade against injustice, but only to be served with greater injustice? To be part of such a revolution or not? Where do you draw a line and how?
It was and is Egypt's story, Palestine's story, Tibet's story and so many more country and million's of people's story.
Reading this book has left me with a heavy heart and a deep sense of disillusionment with this world.
But read it, know what it means to go through something like that, and remember. Never ever forget these lives and their struggles.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,042 reviews33 followers
March 18, 2020
I had high hopes for this novel, despite its awards.

The novel is an insider’s look at the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, something few know except in the abstract. The author’s job, at first glance, seems impossible: set out the carnage and the chaos but in a clear, compelling way for the reader to follow. This can’t be easy at the best of times; Hamilton’s job is even harder. For the Arab spring (so far as I know) was the first civil uprising in which Twitter and Facebook played a key part. The author quotes several, real-life tweets at key points in the novel, like a John Dos Passos for the digital age. He also has a message to convey but knows he cannot be preachy. To the author’s credit he never forgets the idealist and the grifter can share the same body.

I score it lowly because Hamilton makes the same mistake a lot of first time authors make. We know every word, image and action must propel the story. The problem with that advice - I remember my old classmate Tania Hershmann getting so zealous about this - is how people think this means you don’t need any sentences doing the mundane but vital jobs of telling you who’s speaking, where they are, and what they look like. It’s like watching a film where every scene is a gunfight. It’s exciting at first but quickly turns dull. Hamilton’s prose has the same problem; his disjointed style blocks you from fully entering the story.

Wasted opportunity.
Profile Image for Rebecca Crunden.
Author 17 books495 followers
September 24, 2021
We are surrounded by the conversations we didn't have.

This is one of those books that's necessary. It's harrowing and haunting and painful and beautifully well-written. Hands down recommend it to everyone.
Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,398 reviews
August 23, 2017
This one hit me quite hard. It's probably the testimonies - particularly the last one by Umm Ayman, in which she says she's done supporting the revolution because every time she calls for people to stand for the cause her son died for, she's sending at least one more to their death. She thinks the state would not stop until there was no one left, and how could she justify her part in the slaughter? It's not cowardice, this, but a voice of a woman pushed to the edge of what she can live with, and that's the death of a revolution summarized in a short, one page testimony.

Omar Robert Hamilton is Ahdaf Soueif's son, and is related to blogger-activist Alaa Abd El-Fatah. The novel feels personal, urgent. There are even direct notes to Alaa in a couple of places. I didn't understand the book's protagonist's relationship with Alaa, but I considered Khalil to be an author insert anyway. He's a transplant, born to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother, brought up in the US. As devoted as he is to the revolution, he has to justify himself several times. And he has to deal with survivor's guilt, what ifs, and the growing disillusionment with both revolutionaries for having no plan to govern and the government which changed hands but didn't change at all in the important ways. People still got slaughtered.

His opposite number is Mariam, an idealistic woman who's protesting all the things that the men are protesting but her stakes are higher. She's a woman in an Islamic world, and as the power changes hands to the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, it's harder being a woman than ever. Mariam's a great character, and she doesn't stop, even when she's repeatedly disillusioned, even when people defect, die or are imprisoned. I don't know if I can call her naive, because if no one was like her, there wouldn't be change in the world.

I'm not sure if I've read anything like this. Arab Spring was nothing like any other revolution in history, because of how technology played into it. But it was exactly like other revolutions in that young people got killed by the political machinery and justice was not done. There was change, but not the kind anyone hoped for. It's a book chronicling all that, and the loss of hope, and of people killed and maimed and tortured and imprisoned under different regimes. It's not an uplifting book. In fact, it's deeply depressing, but it's vital.
Profile Image for Basma.
664 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2019
If Arab Spring or Arab Revolutions can be considered a genre then this is one of my top genres to read especially when it's well written, and this book falls under this genre. It's always interesting having to read this topic in a fictional setting because the fiction and non-fiction intertwine together and creates a new world. This story reflects the uprisings that happened in Egypt portraying a timeline that's before January 25th till present day. The energy that is within the youth in this book, the hope for a better future, the activism, the never giving up attitude, the running away and coming back again because we can't let it go, the grief, the hurt, the injuries, the constant believing and supporting of those that were left behind to rot in jail and those left behind to fend for themselves when their loved ones pass away, and the going back and forth between the two voices of the characters felt very well put together.. I don't think saying that I've enjoyed this book could be fitting for such a situation, but this book was great.
Profile Image for Maria Johansen.
206 reviews82 followers
May 23, 2019
Jeg uddyber her: https://bookmeupscotty.blogspot.com/2...

Omar Robert Hamilton fortæller den vigtige historie om Det Arabiske Forår fra Egyptens perspektiv, og han bruger sin journalistiske værktøjskasse, når han mikser dokumentarisme og reportagegenren med punktromanen og den traditionelle roman. Han skifter mellem fortællevinkel og fortælletyper, og selvom han til fulde mestrer alle fortælleteknikkens former, så forvirrer det, at fortælleren ikke er bundet op på en bestemt person eller form. Hamilton kræver meget af sin læser, som konstant må orientere sig på ny og være på vagt overfor forfatterens pludselige skift. Samtidig bidrager læserens forvirring til den forvirring, der beskrives blandt oprørene og til det generelle stemningsbillede af Kairos gader. Læseoplevelsen kan måske bedst sammenlignes med et hastigt skiftende diasshow af kraftfulde billeder – billeder med en sådan intensitet og grusomhed, at beskueren må tvinge sig selv til at holde øjnene åbne. Og måske er det netop derfor, bogen er så vigtig – det er så nemt at vende det blinde øje til, særligt når grusomhederne er langt væk fra de trygge rammer i Danmark.

De stærke øjebliksbilleder er medrivende, men den sammenhængende historie skal ikke findes i romanen, og derfor må læseren også enten læse op på Det Arabiske Forår undervejs eller have en imponerende baggrundsviden. Byen vinder altid er bestemt en anbefaling værd, men hvis den skal give sin læser mere og andet end total forvirring, så kræver den altså et indledende ministudie. Der er ingen lykkelig slutning, og vi ved godt hvorfor. Af samme årsag er det en bog, der sidder længe i læseren, og den er barsk at komme igennem. Et vigtigt stykke litteratur.
Profile Image for Nour.
48 reviews23 followers
December 28, 2017
I want to give this book a better rating because it is beautifully written. It took me a long time to read, the writer demands so much emotionally (especially from Egyptians, who were there, who know, who experienced what is written). I need to take the time parse out why this book makes me uneasy, and perhaps I can't say that I 'liked it' because it was so difficult to get through and while the fracturing felt very real and relatable, the writing felt like it stood on its emotional triggering alone (for me), and I had a hard time dividing myself from that without dissociating basically from the text.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,569 reviews137 followers
June 11, 2021
The easiest five stars I have given to a book in a while. I cannot praise this book enough. Hamilton has succeeded in bringing the awful reality of a revolution onto these pages. There is unbridled intensity to every single page, every single word. This is a beautiful and terrifying ode to the frailty of humanity against the brutality of power. Essential. Absolutely.
Profile Image for miss.mesmerized mesmerized.
1,402 reviews30 followers
June 15, 2017
The promise of a better life. A fight against an unbeatable enemy. A love in a time of upheaval. Almost 20 years under the dictator Mubarak come to an end when masses of people inspired by revolutions in other Muslim countries gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo and force Mubarak to resign. Social media are the new weapons and Mariam and Khalil are in the centre of the protests. They broadcast what is happening to the world and they treat the wounded always in fear of becoming a victim of the police, the army or any other group. Over months they keep their revolution alive, actually living from it, forgetting to eat, forgetting their own life. They feel their power to change something, but is there really hope for Egypt?

Omar Robert Hamilton, known for his fight for the Palestinian cause, combines the real events which took place in Egypt over 1.5 years with the fictitious story about Mariam and Khalil. Both of them are interesting characters. Mariam, on the one hand, who helps the doctors and could, together with her parents, establish a kind of camp hospital where immediate treatment is possible, who consoles the mothers of those who died in the protests and who is stubbornly following her ideals. Khalid, on the other hand, is not even Egyptian but find in the protests a kind of proxy for his family’s omitted fight for the Palestinian cause. With his American passport, he has no need to risk his life, but he is fully immersed in the revolutionary power and the mass movement and helps with his journalistic and technical knowledge. Their love is strong in the beginning, but the common aim slowly makes them drift apart. This becomes obvious when they talk to Mariam’s father about their plans for the future - marriage and children? No common ground can be found anymore, so what hold them together?

The strongest aspect of the novel, however, is the description of the fight. The risks the protesters take are impressively narrated. Their belief in a better country is strong and passionate. Some pieces were scary for somebody who was never close to such a situation: the young people writing the phone numbers of their nearest of kin on their arms so that the beloved can be informed in case of serious injury or death. I can only imagine people not really being ready to die, but accepting a possible death as a necessary danger to take for the cause.

Additionally, the narrative structure is remarkable. Omar Robert Hamilton has structured the novel in thee chapter: Tomorrow, Today, Yesterday. This diametrically opposes the chronological order and makes you wonder. Furthermore, the narrative is accelerated by frequent insertions of newspaper headlines, tweets and the like. The author thus managed to create an atmosphere of tension and excitement, you are really drawn into the plot and the characters’ emotional state of thrill.

Even though the plot is highly political, it is not judgemental at all. We get the uprising from a very personal point of view which I found most interesting and fascinating and important for outsiders. All revolutions are backed by ordinary people who risk everything. This novel most certainly gives them a voice and, most importantly, hints at a critical situation of a country which we tend to forget due to even more serious problems.
Profile Image for Heather.
126 reviews
June 9, 2017
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review.

The City Always Wins is poetic, heartbreaking and real. Omar Robert Hamilton has crafted a beautiful piece of literature that captures snapshots of hope and despair in a revolution. It is unique and emotional in a way that will stick with the reader long after they reach the last page.

This book is the story of the uprising that started in Tahrir Square in 2011, told through the eyes of Khalil, a Palistinian-Egyptian born in America who puts himself in the heart of the revolution and helps broadcast news from the front lines. The story is divided into three parts, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Each section brings its own energy, tone and structure, which Hamilton uses adeptly to pace the narrative. From a clear timeline and chapters to strings of frantic tweets and quotes to scenes scattered between news headlines, the reader's sense of time and place spins slowly out of control. Hamilton never lets you settle in, and that's good.

This is a difficult and relatively recent (some would say ongoing) issue. It's something that I admittedly knew little about beyond what U.S. news would have covered in the early days of the revolution in 2011. But it resonated with me as an American watching Black Lives Matter and the Women's March on Washington. It resonated with me as a Baltimore-area resident who watched unrest in the city in 2015 after Freddie Gray died. Some of Hamilton's words and the emotions of his character could have been about how some people felt after the election in November, and it's the universal feeling of hopelessness but ultimate decision to continue fighting that blend to make this book relatable and heartbreaking.
Profile Image for Ifdal E.
45 reviews8 followers
February 15, 2018
I loved it. A beautifully styled novel; slam-poetic and sensorial. The novel's strength lay in ORH's ability to capture the rhythms, smells, cacophony, ecstasy, and ultimately the pain of revolutionary life.
Profile Image for bikerbuddy.
205 reviews2 followers
November 10, 2021
The City Always Wins is written as a first-hand account of the Egyptian revolution which began in January 2011. Written from the perspective of Omar Robert Hamilton’s fictional protagonists, Mariam and Khalil, the novel is a study in the idealism and hope of not just of the Egyptian revolution, but of all moments in history that seem to promise change – the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution are both referenced in the novel - and the eventual dissolution of the ideals upon which they are based. The book’s title alone suggests this, echoing the well-known phrase, "the house always wins", meaning that the punter’s loss against the casino is inevitable.

Hamilton’s account starts not with the January 25 protests centred in Tahrir Square (which were concurrent with protests all over Egypt) that continued for three weeks, but with the Maspero Massacre of the same year. The January 25 protests were unprecedented in their scale and led to Hosni Muburak relinquishing power after eighteen days. Maspero occurred in October of the same year after many other protests during the interim. Depending on which account you accept, somewhere between twenty-four and twenty-seven protesters were killed at Maspero. The confrontation was not a direct political protest but began over the destruction of a Coptic church which had been the subject of a dispute with Muslims. They objected to its overt displays of Christian symbols and claimed that it was using loudspeakers. The justification for destroying the church was that it was constructed illegally. In essence, the massacre was carried out against a crowd of Christians who were protesting religious persecution.

Maspero was a peaceful demonstration in a year of many demonstrations, some of which were violent. The army had taken interim power after Muburak stepped down, a move which was initially welcomed by many Egyptians. Hosni Muburak had been in power for nearly thirty years. Egyptians had rallied against Muburak’s rule after Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself alight in protest against his repressive government. It was an act that inspired uprisings across the Arab world against their governments, which came to be known as the Arab Spring.

At Maspero, the protesters were attacked by the army, nominally in charge of Egypt due to Muburak’s overthrow, with live ammunition, batons and armoured personnel carriers which they drove into the crowd. Some of the protesters were crushed in this way. While the Christians at Maspero were protesting against religious persecution, the massacre also had this wider political context.

So, the novel opens with the massacre having just taken place. Mariam is trying to deal with the wounded and the dead. In these opening pages we see the desperate struggle to house the bodies as they are pulled out of the area. The morgue is full so a hospital ward is made do. But a second battle then begins, not in deadly earnest like the one that produced these corpses, but with the parents of those who have been killed, desperately trying to retrieve their bodies for a swift burial according to their beliefs, with the doctors and protesters who demand autopsies be first performed: "if we have no autopsies, no proof, the army will deny everything … There will be no swift burial of bodies and truths. There will be autopsies. There will be evidence. There will be justice."

As horrific as the opening scene is, it is this belief that evidence will change things – that a message can be controlled – that represents the idealistic revolutionary impulse. A belief not only in the system and that justice will be dispensed, but that the system can reveal immutable truths and has an interest in doing so. If Mubarak was forced from government by popular protest earlier in the year, then why not this?

It is this idealism that gives Maspero a disproportionate significance to the protagonists, particularly to Khalil. As the first anniversary of the January protests draws near, Mariam and Khalil, along with their group, plan to take the television station at Maspero to mark the occasion, since disseminating their political message is central to their cause.

But Maspero also comes to represent the slow failure of their cause. First Mohamed Morsi is finally installed as the new president, and after he is removed from office by the army President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi is treated with adulation by many Egyptians, attaining almost a superstar status with his own merchandising being sold on the streets. They fail to take Maspero, and it haunts Khalil.

In talking about this book it is impossible to overlook the fact that it was written in English and published in western countries. Despite that, it makes many demands upon the reader. The major protests, real people like key political figures or the martyrs, different factional groups and various historical contexts, are referenced throughout the novel without any explanation. Often a name is dropped into conversation which signifies the import of what is being said. However, while that name references a person who may have featured large in the news cycle at the time, it is sometimes a name that would be less remembered, especially for western readers, as the years pass. Unless you have studied the Egyptian revolution specifically or have a remarkable memory, a ready access to Google aids in reading this book.......

Read my full review of The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton on the Reading Project
Profile Image for Mish Middelmann.
325 reviews4 followers
November 30, 2019
Read this book to feel what it was like in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, for those at the forefront of the Arab Spring:

Paranoia – what paranoia? It’s real, we feel like we are being picked off one by one and stuck in jail or worse… That is the feeling of this docudrama and it reminds me a lot of living in South Africa under apartheid - there is an important struggle and there are no institutions to depend on in your earnest struggle for a better life for all.

And, visiting Cairo as I was reading this powerful book, I also came across a lot of Egyptians who are genuinely appreciative of the return to order in their county. And a recent global survey by Gallup ranked Egypt 8th in the world in terms of law and order, including the extent to which people feel safe in their own city or home area. Yet many also mourn the loss of the feeling of ownership of their own land that peaked around the time of the revolution.

So was the re-assertion of control a good or a bad thing? Increasing chaos around the world gives cause for careful consideration. This book provides passionate food for thought.

It’s beautifully written, with a deep connection to the soul of the land and the city:
Forget New York, the whole history of the world can be seen from here, flows past us here, in the Nile streaming from its genesis north and out into the waters of empires and all the brutalities and beauties they bring, emerging riotous and discordant and defiant into something new and undefinable and uncontrollable.
Reading the book in Cairo – yes indeed there is such a riotous and discordant connection with the root of life and passion – and a patina of dust and decay as well. Deeply confusing junction of life and death, perhaps appropriate for this place at the heart of one of the longest-living human civilisations.

What our narrator has to say about this is
This, he thinks, is Egypt. The new, here, does not destroy the old but carries it with it, builds on it, talks to it. The connections, the foundations, are stronger. It’s what you do with the old—that is what is new.
Am I getting old? Some of the revolution feels too glib for me. For example:
Incredible mismanagement from EgyArmy. Demand they cede power to civilian rule now!
The above may be entirely true and appropriate. But somehow I felt the revolutionaries didn’t have much idea of what it does actually take to manage a country of 100 million people being engulfed by both desert and poverty. So I was left with a lot of sadness, both about the beautiful dreams of the young activists, and the brutality of their suppression, and the loss of hope of an entire nation.

His summary of Egyptian politics is, I think, widely held inside Egypt:
[the army] have made their deal with the Brotherhood and all we have is rocks. The Brotherhood keeps the peace and the army keeps their bank accounts. The elections are upon us, the trap is set.

Ultimately our narrator’s group are on what sounds like an anarchist path:
“But if you don’t ever engage in elections, how do you come to power?”
“I don’t want to come to power! Do you? Do you want to be a politician? We’re the opposition, we’re the disruption, we’re what’s going to keep power in line.”
“We’re crisis!” Malik shouts.
Mariam nods approvingly. “I don’t want power. I want to trust the street."

Later there is despair about the way they are defeated by the power of planning. In some way, the message is, movements for change need some structure, some way of holding together and advancing a long term improvement of lives in their land.
And further discussion on this:
The army falls and then? Then the Islamists take over? The police? The Americans send a peacekeeping force? We can’t just keep saying everything is shit. We need a new answer. The whole world needs a new answer.

You're so right, Omar Robert Hamilton. The whole world needs new answers. In my personal opinion the answers lie in embracing differences.
Profile Image for Dave.
250 reviews18 followers
April 17, 2017
This debut novel tells the story of the Egyptian revolution and the disappointment that follows in a frentic way making it difficult to keep up with at times. I feel like the emotion by the author bleeds into the story and makes it very difficult to turn away or not feel overwhelming emotions,especially with the descriptions of several deaths, the torture, and the passionate pleas of freedom. Definitely a relevant book for these times we live in, the fast pace and constant demands of social media and how apathetic people become after a short while of business as usual is captured perfectly.
Thank you to the publishers for making this available to me through netgalley and I hope when this book does release it captures a wide and attentive audience. To anyone who reads this review I certainly hope that you add it to your "to read" shelf as it is well worth your time
Profile Image for Kevin Mitchell Mercer.
180 reviews29 followers
January 31, 2020
The City Always Wins grew on me, or I grew into it. Hamilton uses absolutely beautiful prose to illustrate the emotions attached to revolution and failed revolutions. The stream of consciousness feels like a torrent sometimes as you are caught in page after page of vehemence.
Reading this felt at first like letting someone unload their trama on me, but I found myself reading from my position of privilege with numerous take-aways and questions about my own life, my own assumptions about political revolutions, and modern global politics.
This book will stay with me.
861 reviews20 followers
March 22, 2022
An overview of 2011 Tahrir Square and other protests in Cairo from the viewpoints of Kahlil and Mariam.

"The people demand the fall of the regime. So we'll swap Mubarak for Tatawi for Morsi for Sharon for Obama for whoever, swapping them in one after another as we write long books and argue into the night about "the people" and what we think they want."

"What our new world of digital possibility amounted to? Nothing more than birds rising from the trees at dawn, a mass movement of stunning collective action followed by survival instinct."

Protests and funerals and broadcasting into prisons and hands across bridges. Coming back to America and seeing ads for happy families.
Profile Image for Lydia.
291 reviews230 followers
April 21, 2023
This was undoubtedly well-written and an important book. But also I didn't connect with it at all. It felt like a series of vignettes, as opposed to a novel. It was disjointed and I was completely removed from every character. That could well have been a deliberate choice in order to reflect the feelings of hopelessness and despair, but it made the book feel like a chore, especially for the last 100 or so pages.
Profile Image for Nour Al-khatib.
1 review7 followers
September 7, 2017
من ماسبيرو ٢٠١١ حتى جنازة أحمد سيف الإسلام ٢٠١٤، واسترجاع لشرارة البدء وسقوط مبارك؛ كل حدث وواقعة مسبوق ذكرهم بتاريخ حدوثهم، لكن التواريخ تختفي بعد ١٤ أغسطس ٢٠١٣..
الثورة مقابل سواد الثورة المضادة؛ الوجع الكثيف، الهزائم والأعطاب والاضطرابات والسجون والدماء.. والشهداء الأحياء.

عمل من أوجع وأبلغ ما جاء في تصوير وتوثيق الحالات والأبعاد والمنظورات المختلفة في الأيام تلك، وفي صون الأسماء - التي ستُحمل حتى تُنصف.
Profile Image for Pooja Singh.
53 reviews
June 7, 2020
I can't emphasize enough how beautifully this book is written. And can't believe it's fiction because it's too close to reality. An account of People's lives when the romance of the revolution is over, when the utopian idea is replaced by the dystopian reality. This is what I will call "Creative Fiction"
Profile Image for Laila.
89 reviews14 followers
August 28, 2017
A diary out of the 25th of January Revolution ..always good to remember what happened and to reflect on the current state of affairs.
Profile Image for Brad B.
122 reviews12 followers
April 19, 2021
A compelling read but the author has such a minimalist writing style that I found it difficult to feel fully immersed in the story.
Profile Image for Megan.
106 reviews1 follower
October 17, 2021
this was INSANE. the writing, the pacing, the character & relationship development yum
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