Circling the Square | Granta

  • Published: 06/08/2015
  • ISBN: 9781783782345
  • 153x20mm
  • 384 pages

Circling the Square

Wendell Steavenson

In January 2011, as the crowds gathered to protest Mubarak’s three decades of rule in Egypt, Wendell Steavenson went to Cairo to cover the story. But the revolution defied historical precedent, and it defied the templates of storytelling. There was no single villain, no lone hero, no neat conclusion that wouldn’t be overturned the next day. Tahrir Square changed its moods like the weather; fickle, violent, hopeful, carnival.

As she walks among the tents and the tanks, falling into conversation, sharing cigarettes and cold soda, Steavenson tells the story of a seismic historical moment as it is experienced by ordinary citizens. Here, we meet a young man from the slums with his homemade pistol; a seasoned observer who gives up on analysis; a leader who doesn’t want to lead thrust uncomfortably into the spotlight; a Muslim Brotherhood politician trying to smooth over a restless parliament; and a military intelligence officer convinced that only the army can save Egypt.

Steavenson captures the cacophony of dizzying events as protests and elections ebbed and flowed around the revolution, tipping it towards democracy and then back into the military’s hands. Mixing reportage and travelogue, Circling the Square shows how the particular and the personal can illuminate more universal questions: what does democracy mean? What happens when a revolution throws everything up in the air?

Steavenson is one of the most gifted and perceptive writers of her generation. There is no better person to have been a witness at Tahrir Square, and to lead us into the world of the protestors, the politicians, the actors and the regional players. She writes with elegance, grace and authority

Janine di Giovanni

This is the revolution up close and personal, a vivid taste of the fear and exhilaration of protest in the square, embellished with excursions that illuminate the subtler workings of Egyptian society

Rachel Aspden, Guardian

Steavenson writes beautifully, layering images and details in packed, breathless sentences... Circling the Square provides valuable testimony to the inspiring spirit of unity and selflessness in Tahrir so evident during those 18 days and, periodically, during the first year after the revolution before polarisation and cynicism took over

Heba Saleh, Financial Times

The Author

WENDELL STEAVENSON has lived in and reported from post-Soviet Georgia, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. She is the author of the acclaimed memoir, Stories I Stole, about post-Soviet Georgia, and The Weight of a Mustard Seed, about life in Saddam’s Iraq and the aftermath of the American invasion. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Telegraph, Granta,, Time, New Yorker, and other publications. She lives in Paris.

More about the author →

Wendell Steavenson on

Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition

Wendell Steavenson | Is Travel Writing Dead?

Wendell Steavenson

‘Our globalised world of easyJet and Google Translate does not seem to have fostered any greater understanding’

Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition


Wendell Steavenson

‘I don’t know how to think about this. How to stretch compassion for one person into a million.’ Wendell Steavenson on Europe’s migrant-refugee crisis.

Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition

Victory in Lebanon

Wendell Steavenson

‘We are from God and we return to God.’