An impressive novel, combining deep meditations on the nature of religion and faith with a breathtaking snapshot of a much neglected historical period. The "Azazeel" of the title - or Satan - emerges not simply as the "evil" inherent in human beings, but as the shape we give to this evil; he starts "troubling" the narrator only when events start overtaking him, when he finally crumbles under the cruelty of the world, which he could not escape even by removing himself into a peaceful monastery far away from his strife-torn Egyptian homeland. But this voice of evil is, at the same time, the voice of truth and reason - a constant reminder that what holds human society together are not only its blessings and fortunes, but also its evils and cruelties. No refuge in the divine is possible, because it cannot be subtracted from the world "as is". We can give what would supposedly remain after this subtraction a name and a shape and a personality and call it "evil", or "Satan", or whatever; but it will not leave us alone.
Our faith is always being tested, and it will always be tested; and what I find most curious about the novel is that it leaves the answer open - it does not propose that "true faith" will persist, because there does not seem to be anything similar to "true faith"; and, crucially, there never has been
- our secular doubts are not merely a product of a corrupt modernity, but something that has always been present, and that has overwhelmed each and every person throughout the ages. The latter idea is what I find truly subversive about the novel. And, as with pretty much every novel translated from Arabic, now I feel that I really need to read the original as well!