Book Size: 5.25" x 8"

Pages: 320

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781623719777

Imprint: Interlink Books

Edition: 1

Release date: October 2, 2019

Categories: ,

When All Else Fails


$ 16

“When All Else Fails is politically complex, and its humor is razor-sharp.” — Susan Muaddi Darraj, PopMatters

About this book

A darkly humorous saga set in post-9/11 America and the Middle East

When All Else Fails begins on September 12th, 2001. It is the story of Hunayn, a luckless and lovelorn Iraqi college student living in Orlando, Florida, after having graduated from high school in Beirut. Hunayn’s life is upended by 9/11—but not immediately, and not in the way that he, fearful in the aftermath of the attacks, initially expects.

As America settles into its post-9/11, open-ended “Septemberland” phase (vigilant but also overly suspicious and even paranoid), many Arab and Muslim Americans are made to feel it’s no longer their home. With Hunayn, who muddles through a series of surreal episodes in Orlando and nearby Indiantown, the situation proves almost the opposite: Septemberland—so many of whose citizens think they have Hunayn figured out just because of his name or origins—comes to remind him of his most recent unhappy home, Lebanon, which he assumed he’d left behind. Now, having had his fill of disconcerting experiences, Hunayn returns to Beirut. At least he knows how to navigate life back there—or so he thinks.

It turns out that Lebanon is about to undergo political upheaval of its own: a former prime minister opposed to neighboring Syria’s control of the country is assassinated; subsequent popular protests compel the Syrian regime to withdraw its army; a spate of mysterious bombings terrorizes everyone; and Israel, another neighbor, launches a war on Lebanon in retaliation for an attack by a Lebanese militant group. Hunayn finds himself aswirl in the maelstrom. And all the while, he watches from afar as Iraq, his fabled homeland and the owner of his heart, unravels in the wake of the US-led invasion.


About the author

RAYYAN AL-SHAWAF is a book critic whose reviews and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Globe and Mail, LA Review of Books, Miami Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Millions, Toronto Star, Truthdig, Washington Post, and other publications. He lives in Malta. When All Else Fails is his first novel.


“Al-Shawaf’s protagonist sees the world through empathetic eyes — he sees beyond the ignorance and prejudice that surrounds us all. Having lived in several countries and become multilingual, he is larger than himself, with a vision that goes beyond being Chaldean or Iraqi or Arab or Christian.” —Jordan Elgrably, Los Angeles Review of Books

“When All Else Fails is a dark comedy centered around Hunayn, a Rome and Beirut-educated Iraqi Christian who is living in Florida when 9/11 suddenly upends his life. Set in the tumultuous aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers, al-Shawaf’s debut novel unpacks themes around religious, cultural, and national identities, and tackles the stereotypes that comes with them.”  —The New Arab, “The best books by Arab authors in 2019”

“When All Else Fails tells the story of an Iraqi college student who’s living in Orlando when his whole life changes on 9/11. Readers will feel loss, hope, love and courage in Al-Shawaf’s novel.” —Orlando Weekly

“A debut novel from an author to watch, this finely crafted story would provide any book group with hours of satisfying discussion.” —Booklist

“Darkly comic, subtle, and thoughtful… Al-Shawaf’s first novel, set in the tumultuous aftermath of 9/11, is an often fascinating, sometimes funny picaresque about ethnic, religious, and national identities and the ways we wear them, shed them, embrace them, redefine them….” —Kirkus Reviews

“When All Else Fails is politically complex, and its humor is razor-sharp.” —Susan Muaddi Darraj, PopMatters

When All Else Fails is a wonderful debut novel: profound, funny and a joy to read from start to finish. … Rayyan’s words are magical.” —Jim Powell, author of Things We Nearly Knew, Trading Futures, and The Breaking of Eggs

“You’re Middle Eastern. You’re a college student in conservative central Florida… and 9/11 happens. Who knew coming of age as a Stranger in a Strange Land could be so fraught… and so savagely funny? Rayyan Al-Shawaf’s book offers a completely fresh take on our 21st century’s pressing questions. What’s identity? What’s home? What’s in the heart to always find a way forward? When All Else Fails is marvelous and questing and honest. I think it’s a book of the year … no matter the year.” —Charles McNair, author of The Epicureans, Pickett’s Charge, and Land O’ Goshen

“In When All Else Fails, Rayyan Al-Shawaf deftly melds on-the-ground experience with an extremely engaging and vivid fictional narrative. When All Else Fails is required reading for all who desire an entertaining and illuminating perspective on individuals who find themselves caught in the cultural and religious cross-currents of life in both America and the Middle East.” — R. P. Finch, author of Skin in the Game