"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."
"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
“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