Every book purchased at the mythical Parisian bookshop “Shakespeare & Company” is imbued with a kind of magic words fail to express. The newest from Egyptian author Alaa al Aswany is no exception.
The first place I run to, whenever I land in Paris, is this bookshop. Now they have a cosy, très chic & oh lala! French patisserie next to the shop so you can buy your books and read them snuggled in a corner with a cappuccino and a couple of macarons on the side.
How much we love a book depends on the quality of the book but also, probably mainly, on what we´re looking for.
And we´re all looking for something, knowingly or not.
Although “The Automobile Club of Egypt” has not exceeded previous jewels like Chicago or The Yacoubian Building (made into a marvellous movie), it represents another insider dip into the complex country I know and love so much.
The transition between British occupation and the first Egyptian Government is at the core of the book, leading every other action forward. The book also focus on the problematic of human dignity, and hipocrisy, in a society where money equals authority and power, even if achieved through despicable means, equals status – something I felt on my skin while I lived in Egypt.
Through the story we see how Egyptians allowed – still allow, in my opinion – the ruling power to use and humiliate them, perpetuating the division between masters and servants, and how even the most patient, subservient folks can explode in rage and thirst for justice.
I felt I knew all the characters in the book – friends, neighbors, people I knew about in my real life -, an experience I usually have when I read Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel Prize of Literature. That reencounter is always a happy one. And urgent.
It seems I keep going back where I came from, trying to rescue something – what, exactly, remains to be answered.
P:S: (Almost) sorry for relating with books, and everything else, on an extremely personal level. No way to avoid it. For me, life and art are intertwined and everything I do, or read, is a personal matter.
*Here´s an interesting review on the book and the work of the author: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/26/the-automobile-club-of-egypt-alaa-al-aswany-review