The events of this novel take place during the 50’s and early 60’s. It was first published in 1964. The author Waguih Ghali committed suicide in 1968.
Beer in the snooker club talks about Ram, a young Copt in his twenties, a ‘poor’ amongst his posh family. He lives in Zamalek, hangs out at Gezira club, Groppi and a snooker club. He reads a lot, depends financially on his family and friends, especially the whiskey bills, he used to be a gambler and a bit of a womanizer.
Torn between two identities, he is not really an Egyptian due to his upbringing in this posh society, being educated in a British school with its European set of values and yearning for its lifestyle, yet he engages in anti-British activities and discussions, and prides himself of having the Egyptian sense of humour.
“This terrible knowledge I possess, I said. ‘All the literature I have read. You. This awareness of myself,’I told her, ‘which started to afflict me as soon as I set foot in Europe. I see myself not only through Egyptian eyes, but through eyes which embrace the whole world in their gaze.’ …..
‘My God,’ she said, ‘I never realized I had made you so lonely.’
Reading some reviews on this novel, I got to know that it is some sort of a semi-biography, and that Ghali described his own cosmopolitan milieu in the 50’s, his satirical political ideas, and personal opinions. Some reviewers claim that this is “one of the best novels about Egypt ever written”, but I strongly disagree. Ok, it is good and it describes a certain class from an angle rarely previewed, but this is by far not really descriptive of Egypt.
On the other hand, I can’t help but imagine Ram / Waguih’s life if it was happening nowadays, and I find that nothing would have changed much, except the US would substitute UK, and discussions of left & right wings, will be replaced by Terrorism, wikileaks and the clash of civilizations. Plus, I feel that the same persona of Ram is certainly widespread nowadays, and allowing myself to be a bit stereotypical, I would imagine he would be a typical AUCian, with an active political blog, went to the US for a couple of years to study, joined a couple of demonstrations, and discusses satire international events in el Borsa cafe, the Greek club or his blog. I just hope that the underlining despair of Ram won’t be totally transcended in our age with its silhouetted despair and suicidal sidenote.
At the end, this may not be the best novel about Egypt in the 50’s, but definitely an interesting read, mixing satire, self-criticizing and shed light on the Gezira crowd a bit differently from Inji and the son of the gardener.