Media Center: ‘Automobile Club of Egypt’ by Alaa Al Aswany
WHO: Alaa Al Aswany
WHAT: THE AUTOMOBILE CLUB OF EGYPT, a novel
WHEN: Published by Knopf August 18, 2015
WHERE: The story is set in Cairo.
WHY: “A rich political fable.
“In post—World War II Cairo, one family offers a lens on royal corruption, the British occupation, and the economic struggles of urban Egyptians…The once-wealthy patriarch of the Gaafar family suddenly dies after being beaten while working a menial job at the exclusive Cairo club of the title, where Egyptians are servants and only Europeans and royalty are members.
“Two of his three sons then get jobs at the club to support their mother and sister but also pursue secret activities. The studious Kamel, who gives Arabic lessons to the rebellious daughter of the club’s British managing director, is drawn into a group of radicals seeking to end the occupation. The oafish Mahmud performs as a gigolo servicing wealthy elderly women. Their sister reluctantly abandons her university studies to marry a man who will help the third brother in his business pursuits.
“Two characters embody the corruption and abuses targeted by the 1952 uprising that overthrew the king and helped oust the British. James Wright, the club director, is almost a caricature of obtuse colonial snobbery. He connives with the king’s chamberlain, Alku, who rules over the servants of the club through humiliation and beatings. The king himself is an overweight, gambling womanizer whose hankerings put Wright in an ugly quandary close to home.
“Coming out so soon after the 2011 revolution, the novel at its simplest level may serve to remind Egyptians and others involved in the Arab Spring of some of the historical reasons so many pursued democracy and how elusive it remains.
“Whatever political freight Al Aswany intends, he remains a charming, earthy, resourceful storyteller who might seduce even readers closer to Times Square than to Tahrir Square.” —KIRKUS, a starred review
“Bestselling Egyptian novelist Al Aswany memorably evokes corrupt British-occupied Egypt in the years before the 1952 revolution…Myriad colorful details, intertwining narratives, and dramatic cliffhangers.”
Translated from the Arabic by Russell Harris.
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