Title – The Automobile club of Egypt
Author – Alaa Al Aswany
Publisher – Canon Gate books
Format – Paperback; ISBN 9780857862211
Themes – Colonialism, Racism, Sexism, Democracy, Change
Published in 2006, the automobile club of Egypt is a very interesting story. Set in Egypt, the story follows an upper Egyptian family that is forced to migrate to the city as they cannot sustain their lifestyle anymore. The father, an altruistic man has been lending help to everyone who comes asking to the point of bankruptcy.
Now they have to move to the city (Cairo) and live like the lower class. Ruqqaya chooses to stay with her husband to the death and it’s a sorrowful goodbye when they leave their ancestral home. But the family is determined to survive and actually thrive in the city.
Raising four children; Said, Kamel, Mahmud and the girl Saleha is no easy feat. With no money, no qualifications and no connections, their father has to take up a job at the automobile club of Egypt.
A man once used to the niceties of life now has to persevere the pain of dyeing Saleha’s blue shoes white for ballet classes. Often, Saleha is on the brink of leaving school, and most neighbors agree. After all, she is a girl. Never mind Mahmoud has taken the same class on repeat for years, Saleha must leave school and get married.
It kills the family.
But it destroys them when their father dies and they all have to pick up the slack. Ruqqaya is denied her husband’s employment benefits and actually has to make two boys work to earn the same income. Kamel, the bright son offers to do it and now has to learn the workings of the establishment. Said buys a business for a marriage and leaves.
The Automobile Club of Egypt
During his tenure at the automobile club of Egypt, Kamel meets Alku- the man who made his father’s life hell. Alku is a close advisor to the king and makes all the employment decisions. Kamel cannot afford to cross him if he is to continue supporting his family. But day in day out, he witnesses injustices he cannot persevere.
As a university graduate, working at the automobile club of Egypt is sickening. An all-white establishment, this club simply states that Egyptians cannot own automobiles. Those that do belong to this club and they are all white. In. the. Whole. Country.
Something has to give.
If employees are to get better pay, insurance, and other benefits, a revolution is imminent. But it won’t be easy. Alku is not about to let workers disrespect him and the workers are not ready to receive a beating. The automobile club of Egypt is his kingdom, and he has veto power. Obviously, the strike fails and employees have to pick sides. Kamel’s dream is just too expensive at the moment.
Aided by his underground community, Kamel keeps rocking the boat. They need to clean the whole country, one thing at a time. Egypt needs to grow and develop. Egyptians need to stop living like squatters in their own land.
Alaa Al Aswany
The automobile club of Egypt is very intriguing. The story flows really well. It is told from two angles; Kamel’s and Saleha’s. Each perspective is different, difficult and convincing. The paths these two characters have to choose are the best they could. And they do well, Kamel mostly. As much as he loses the battle, he eventually wins the war.
Alaa Al Aswany is more famous for his book The Yacoubian Building. This multilingual speaker also wrote Friendly Fire– a short story collection. The Times also named him as one of the best 50 authors to have been translated to English. The translation from Arabic to English in the automobile club of Egypt is seamless too. His works have been translated into 29 languages.
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