The Automobile Club of Egypt, by Alaa Al Aswany
A rollicking, exuberant and powerfully moving story of a family swept up by social unrest in post–World War II Cairo Abd el-Aziz Gaafar, formerly a well-respected landowner now in the grip of penury, moves his family to Cairo and takes on menial work at the Automobile Club—a place of refuge and luxury for its European members, but one where Egyptians may appear only as servants. Alku, the lifelong Nubian servant of Egypt’s corrupt king, runs the show in all but name. The servants, a squabbling, humorous, and deeply human group, live in a perpetual state of fear: beaten for their mistakes, their wages dependent on Alku’s whims. When Abd el-Aziz’s pride gets the better of him and he stands up for himself, his death—as much from shame as from his injuries after Alku has him beaten—leaves his widow further impoverished and two of his sons obliged to work in the Club. As the family is drawn into the turbulent politics of Egypt—public and private—both servants and masters are subsumed by the country’s social upheaval. Soon, the Egyptians of the Automobile Club face a stark choice: to live safely but without dignity as servants, or to fight for their rights and risk everything.
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