The Automobile Club of Egypt: A novel - Russell Harris, Alaa Al Aswany

Pros: Fascinating look into Egyptian society under British occupation in the early 20th century; even the minor and background characters are interesting and have such human flaws and quirks; great writing arc building up over the chapters. Also, you could probably play trope bingo with this novel and get a blackout very quickly. :)


Cons: The intro is... unnecessarily random? No idea what the point of it was; actually, the beginning is just weird; there is no ending as far as I can tell. I'm very disappointed that the novel ends where it does because it seemed like there could have been another 400 pages after that, but... there's not.


Interesting points: The perception of colonialism from both sides in addition to the third party beneficiary of the arrangement, in this case the king and his entourage; the oppressed group mentality in conflict with the cultural community traditions; the cultural inclusion of the community period - so different from American culture! - although the personality flaws are universally recognizable of course, haha.


I've already bookmarked the rest of the author's works that have been translated into English. I can't wait to get a hold of them~


Quotes for posterity:


"I have expressed the thoughts and feelings of my characters quite well enough."


"You have expressed them from your point of view."


"Naturally. I'm the author."


"Why don't you let us speak for ourselves?"


"No one has the right to interfere with my work."

There is a rather famous Tumblr post that has circulated across the Interwebz about a character that falls in love with his author... this reminded me of that in some way: the author meeting their characters in the flesh.


-- "The automobile established man's sense of independence and individuality and confirmed him as master of his own destiny." Probably why Americans are so obsessed with the idea of cars even if not quite enamored with the reality of them (insurance, ugh).


"I'm not a racist. I'm just speaking the truth. Egyptians are lazy, dirty and liars too."


"Well, if they're so awful, why do you live among them? Why don't you go back to clean and efficient England?"


"My work obliges me to live in Egypt."


"Oh, really! How terrible that must be for you! How can you put up with the villa you live in with your family, your grand car and your fabulous salary?"


"Odette, don't mock me. Obviously, my job does afford me some perquisites, but were it not for that I wouldn't be able to bear life in this country for a single day."

This. This accurately expresses the sentiment of every expat "lifer" that I have ever met. Importing foreigners is generally an expensive endeavor on behalf of the company employing them, especially if they come from a country with a higher standard of living (take that phrase with a grain of salt though - it's relative), but the salary and/or benefits that attract them, in addition to the character type generally attracted by such things, results in a weird inverse class resentment on all sides. I find the topic fascinating.


-- "Well, if you insist on ruining our night, let me tell you I am in complete agreement with Churchill. Britain, or any civilized European country, is making a huge sacrifice in sending its military to a backward land like Egypt or India. I don't know how much longer Britain will consider it a duty to bring civilization to the barbarians." Said every imperialist power ever.


-- "Does everyone have to belong to a particular country?" / "I can't imagine a person with no nationality." / "Nationalities are a fascist way of thinking aimed at forcing people into a narrow and stupid sense of belonging. It makes some people feel superior to others and perpetuates hatred and war."


"Were it not...for what you call 'the occupation,' your country would still be in the Middle Ages."


"We didn't ask for anyone's help. And I don't believe that Britain has occupied Egypt for charitable purposes."


"And do you think...that Egyptians are capable of governing themselves?"

"The Egyptians ruled the civilized world for centuries."


"Yes, of course. You have to look to distant history for your glory because your present is not very inspiring."


"The deterioration in the quality of life in Egypt is due to the occupation that is systematically plundering our resources."


"Before the Egyptians start demanding independence, they need to learn how to think and work properly."

Compare with the imperialistic quote above.


-- "Gentlemen! You can defend your romantic image of women all you like, but no one knows them better than I do. They are fantastic creatures but with no sense of honor. That's the sad truth, and there's no point denying it. You are like diners waiting for your meal in a restaurant, whereas I work in the kitchen and know how the most tempting dishes are prepared." As someone who has worked in a kitchen, I found this analogy horrifying hilarious.


-- "He now looked at women the way a driver might check over a car for its good and bad parts, knowing that, whatever the model or make, he would be able to drive it." Oh my god, why did I laugh at this? It's horrible, but LOL.