The Automobile Club of Egypt – A Review

The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany

The Automobile Club of Egypt has lots of drama, a fast-paced storyline and well thought-out characters. Alaa Al Aswany knows how to keep the readers hooked and he is an excellent observer of human nature. The chapters were short and they almost always ended with cliff-hangers. I am not sure how much justice Russel Harris’s translation has done to the original, but he has made the book extremely easy to read.

The book has tried to explain the effects of the British occupation of Egypt through the Gaafar family and the Automobile club. Abd el-Aziz Gaafar, a rich and benevolent landowner in Upper Egypt, goes bankrupt and moves to Cairo. He works as a servant in the club in order to feed his family. His situation is not very different from his country’s. Run by a British man, the working conditions in the club for the Egyptians is pitiable. The servants are treated like slaves and are humiliated in front of everybody. The twisted rules of the British are upheld by a local called Alku whom the servants fear. What happens within that club is an illustration of what is happening in the country. The club is a miniature model of Egypt (and sometimes British-occupied India).

While the club represents the plight of the working class people, the Gaafar family household is a sample set of the society. Mahmud and Saleha Gaafar, the dumb and the clever one respectively, show what education (or the lack of it) can do to you. While Saleha has the sense to divorce her drug-addict abusive husband and continue studying, Mahmud drops out of school to become a male escort for the old sex starved ladies. While Kamel Gaafar is a nationalist with his heart in the right place, his brother Said is a selfish man who wouldn’t hesitate to sell his sister and even his country if it does him any good. Each of these siblings had their own engaging storyline.

But these storylines did not feel complete. When the book was over, there were loose ends everywhere. Though I was happy with what happened in the end, the unresolved conflicts left me wanting more.

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