New novel ‘Live from Cairo’ set among refugees during the Arab Spring of 2011

American writer Ian Bassingthwaighte’s novel goes beyond the headlines.

War refugees, we’re told early on in Ian Bassingthwaighte’s eye-opening first novel, often suffer from an unusually high rate of arrhythmia. The reason: “The average heart, it seemed, was unable to normalize after the shock of learning what people could do.”

Among the factors that can trigger such cardiac irregularities are terrorist attacks, forced separations from immediate family and unshakable memories of abduction, torture and rape. Throw in sudden homelessness and poverty, and it’s amazing these people can function at all.

“Live from Cairo,” set in Egypt during the Arab Spring of 2011, makes vivid the limbo that refugees inhabit by focusing on one particular case.

Author appearance

Ian Bassingthwaighte

The author of “Live from Cairo” will speak at 7 p.m. July 19 at Elliott Bay Book Co. (elliottbaybook.com or 206-624-6600.

34-year-old Dalia from Baghdad is unable to join her husband Omran in Boston where he works as a garage mechanic. A former translator for the U.S. military in Iraq, Omran was kidnapped by the Iraqi militia after the “American War” and grimly brutalized, leaving him blind in one eye.

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While Omran qualifies for U.S. refugee status, Dalia does not because they have no paperwork proving they’re married. She winds up in Cairo where her application to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is not going well, in part because she’s too ashamed to talk about the debasements she went through in Baghdad to save Omran.

Bassingthwaighte, an American writer who worked in a Cairo legal-aid office helping refugees during the period when the novel is set, sees Dalia’s case from several points of view. Young Iraqi-American woman Hana has personal family reasons for wanting to help refugees. But as a new UNHCR employee, she’s in no…

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