The City Always Wins

Omar Robert Hamilton

This thrilling debut is the definitive novel of the Arab Spring by an author who witnessed the revolution first hand.

Date Published
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‘Omar Robert Hamilton brings vividly to life the failed revolution of 2011 on the streets of Cairo, in all its youthful bravery and naive utopianism.’ – JM Coetzee

‘The City Always Wins is a stirring, clear, humane and immensely savvy novel about political innocence and fearlessness. Its fictive portrayals of the Egyptian ‘revolution’ of 2011 are nothing less than ground-breaking.’ – Richard Ford

‘I finished this novel with fascination and admiration. It gives a picture of the inside of a popular movement that we all saw from the outside, in countless news broadcasts and foreign-correspondent reports, a picture so vivid and powerful that it gives a passionate life and reality to what might have been perceived only as abstract principles. A thousand vivid details print themselves on the reader’s memory: it will be a long time before we read anything so skilfully brought to life.’ – Philip Pullman

‘Few writers could capture the frenetic speed of an Internet-fuelled uprising alongside the time-stopping corporeal reality of bullet-ridden bodies, all while never losing sight of the love that powered Egypt’s revolutionary moment. Omar Robert Hamilton can do all that and more. Crossing borders and generations, he brings us into the movement’s effervescent hope and its crushing heartbreak, probing timeless questions about what the living owe to the dead. Unbearable. Unmissable. A dazzling debut.’ – Naomi Klein

‘From the chaos and torment of a revolution, and the perpetual struggle with despotism, Omar Robert Hamilton has drawn a novel of great emotional and intellectual power. The City Always Wins is a rare fiction that reminds us, with its wisdom about violence and inequality, grief and loss, how politics is for many today a way to live – and die.’ – Pankaj Mishra

‘The hope, the excitement, the arrogance, the disillusionment, the renewal of hope – this novel is fast, thought-provoking, and hugely entertaining.’ – Roddy Doyle


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

This is a revolution. On the streets of Cairo, a violent uprising is transforming the course of modern history. Mariam and Khalil, two young activists, are swept up in the political fervour. Their lives will never be the same again.

Brave, visceral, and electric with tension, Omar Robert Hamilton’s debut novel uniquely captures the feverish intensity of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. From the euphoria of mass protests to the chilling silence of the morgue, The City Always Wins is the only novel that allows readers to pierce to the bloody heart of the uprising. Intensely lyrical, yet uncompromisingly political, Omar Robert Hamilton’s writing is set to become the defining voice of a revolution that promised so much to so many.

Critic Reviews

Omar Robert Hamilton’s explosive debut novel [has] a combination of intensity and empathy rare in political fiction ... The view is admirably clear-sighted, evenhanded, at times kaleidoscopic ... A kind of revolutionary verisimilitude ... The writing really sings ... It powerfully transmits the hope and despair of Egypt’s Tahrir Square generation [and] plunges us into an important moment in recent history and makes us think about it anew ... It may even grow to be an important book—one of the defining novels of the Arab Spring.

Toby Lichtig, The Wall Street Journal
Critic Reviews

An astonishing debut novel. The triumphs and disappointment of the 2011 Egyptian revolution – and the energy of the Cairo streets – brought vividly to life The City Always Wins is a tale of defeat and dashed dreams and of hope’s persistence told in a poetic prose. The style is at once pared down and highly expressive. The tension between exuberance and restraint fits the subject matter and defines Hamilton’s method. He splits scenes to great effect, interspersing text messages, tweets and real headlines, raising the pitch until the final stretch of Khalil’s stream-of-consciousness. This private, continuous flow of thought at the end of the novel is an apt reflection of the retreat from collective, social energy to the individual and interior realm. The relentless acceleration of pace mimics the confusion of the events, the sense of the people – who once seemed to hold the reins – losing control. Here is the novel form proving itself again, revealing far more than journalism can.

Guardian - Book of the Day
Critic Reviews

The Egyptian revolution of 2011, seen through the eyes of two young activists, is vividly brought to life in this moving chronicle of mortality. Cairo is the city evoked in this ambitious debut novel and it is seen from a prismatic range of perspectives, including those of Mariam and Khalil, two young activists whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the Arab spring. The couple work for a media collective that disseminates information about repression and revolution in a narrative spliced with tweets, Facebook posts and newspaper headlines, compellingly exploring the powers and pitfalls of communication. The author is also a film-maker and a cinematic style captures both brutality and beauty, from “the echo of bullets ricocheting through the air” to “the chorus of birds that fills the dusk air in Zamalek”. The novel also travels into the hearts of the people who inhabit this city (“the unending city of sores and scars and needs that will never be sated”) – in a moving chronicle of mortality, “the stain of a life slipping away” and the pain of losing loved ones.

Critic Reviews

A poetic, intimate debut set in Cairo during the Arab Spring … A psychologically acute perspective on the uprising as it unfolded, positioning the reader alongside political dissidents ... Reads with a diary's intimacy ... Line by line Hamilton has the power of a crack poet ... This novel bears witness, recording injustice and aiming, as all good literature attempts, to tell the truth

New Statesman
Critic Reviews

Rarely does a debut novel arrive as fully realised and confidently written as Omar Robert Hamilton's The City Always Wins… Sure-footed and pitch-perfect … Hamilton shares with the likes of Colum McCann and Jay Mclnerney a gift for providing for his drama a landscape which sizzles with life and heat and energy… This novel is more than a well-executed modern history lesson. It is a chronicle of injustice, betrayal and sadness. And it's much more satisfying for it.

Big Issue
Critic Reviews

Remarkable … a rollercoaster emotional journey that Robert Hamilton, drawing on first-hand experience, captures with thrilling immediacy.

Mail on Sunday
Omar RobertHamilton

Omar Robert Hamilton is an award-winning filmmaker and writer. He has written for the Guardian, the London Review of Books and Guernica. He co-founded the Mosireen media collective in Cairo and the Palestine Festival of Literature.

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