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FICTION : BEER IN THE SNOOKER CLUB by Waguih Ghali (New Amsterdam Books: $15.95; 220 pp.).

November 29, 1987|Sylvie Drake

This reissue of the late Waguih Ghali's only novel makes us mourn his loss all the more keenly. A plainspoken writer of consummate wryness, grace and humor, the Egyptian author chronicles the lives of a polyglot Cairene upper crust, shortly after the fall of King Farouk and thoroughly unprepared to change its neo-feudal ways.

The Suez War and inroads of Nasser's revolution are everywhere in this book--in the conversational politics, the malaise Ghali's anti-hero Ram and his friend Font sense about their world, the stasis that besets Ram's wealthy Jewish lover Edna (who feels Egyptian and not Egyptian), the contradictions in the insular, escapist lives of friends and family who go around as if nothing had happened.

Ram is a charming rascal, an educated ne'er-do-well--the cynosure of a doting mother and meddling aunts and uncles who live in a world of ceremonial excess, hypocrisy and internecine gossip that amuses, repels and ultimately traps him. Penniless (thanks to his late father's massive losses), he retains the arrogance and elegance typical of entire mid-century generations of well-to-do Egyptians, born into one culture (Egyptian), reared in the high expectations of one or two others (French and English), comfortable in none.

Don't be put off by the title. This is the best book to date about post-Farouk Egypt.

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