Watching on the Web as crowds spilled into the streets of Cairo by the millions lent an unexpected urgency to the experience of reading Dara Horn’s new novel. Whether they were protesting the evisceration of Egypt’s few democratic institutions, defending the theocratic visions of the Muslim Brotherhood, denouncing Zionist plots, or simply giving voice to their tottering nation’s starvation and rage, the waves of humanity crashing each day into Tahrir Square underscored the timeliness of Horn’s A Guide for the Perplexed, which is mostly set in present-day Egypt and contains, along with a great deal else, grim if occasionally hopeful commentary about that country’s weighty history and current crises.

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