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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Beer in the Snooker Club

by
Waguih Ghali


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Beer in the Snooker Club



Title: Beer in the Snooker Club
Author: Waguih Ghali
Genre: Novel
Written: 1964
Length: 220 pages
Availability: Beer in the Snooker Club - US
Beer in the Snooker Club - UK
Beer in the Snooker Club - Canada
Beer in the Snooker Club - India
Les jeunes pachas - France
Birra e biliardo al Cairo - Italia
Cerveza en el club de snooker - España
  • The Vintage International edition (2014) comes with an Introduction by Pankaj Mishra

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine comic-poignant portrait of specific time, place, and class

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 29/11/1987 Sylvie Drake
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/6/1964 Martin Levin
The Observer . 4/10/2010 Rachel Aspden
Sunday Times . 8/3/1964 Julian Mitchell
Sunday Times . 21/4/1968 Philip Norman


  From the Reviews:
  • "Don't be put off by the title. This is the best book to date about post-Farouk Egypt." - Sylvie Drake, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Beer in the Snooker Club may be angry, but it is also extremely funny. Ghali neatly skewers the pretensions of the Cairene elite along with the hypocrisies of empire (.....) Different to any other Egyptian novel, Beer in the Snooker Club is a funny, tragic memorial to a man and a country at a time of painful transition." - Rachel Aspden, The Observer

  • "Waguih Ghali's witty and graceful first novel is set in Cairo, but his fictional material is much the same as Durrell's. (...) Waguih Ghali, who now lives in Germany, has written an exceptional novel." - Julian Mitchell, Sunday Times

  • "(A) very smart and thorough examination of a young Cairo loafer's mind" - Philip Norman, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Beer in the Snooker Club is narrated by Ram, an Egyptian idler in his twenties from a still-wealthy family -- though he and his mother are at its periphery, at least as far as the money goes -- living in post-Farouk Egypt. He spent several years abroad, in England, and a long section of the novel chronicles him going there, but he had to leave after the Suez Crisis. While he has the safety net of connections back in Egypt that would allow him to get a job (or rather a sinecure) he doesn't feel particularly compelled to settle down.
       Among Ram's haunts is a snooker club, where his closest friend, Font works -- a job Ram got him, to keep him out of trouble. Font went to England with Ram, and they retain some English affectations ("we're so English it's nauseating", Font reminds Ram); unable to get draught Bass they brew, after a fashion, their own (Egyptian Stella beer, beaten until the gas escapes, and then a dash of vodka and whisky ...).
       Ram lives in a changing Egypt where there are still few opportunities for many well-educated people; he has more than most, but still feels a general dissatisfaction -- in part because he knows he is so privileged ("There is a touch of gimmick in whatever I do", he admits too). While the novel opens with his aunt dealing with the land reforms -- forced to give away much of the family's extensive holdings, though in fact she was only: "selling cheap and pretending to the government she was giving land to the poor" -- class, connections, and family still matter a great deal, reflecting that the society is still largely (if now somewhat differently) corrupt. So too Ram acknowledges that he got into university, to study medicine, ahead of more deserving students; that's just the way things still work.
       Ram is a Copt, and the woman he long loved, the slightly older Edna, is Jewish, daughter of: "One of the richest Jewish families in Egypt -- our Woolworths". It is Edna who pays for him and Font to go to England, and they have a continuing but somewhat on-and-off again romance which only resolves itself at the conclusion of the novel.
       Despite her wealth (and her Judaism) Edna is more obviously committed to the lot of the less fortunate and more interested in the locals beyond the narrow class Ram (and her parents) move in. Her family has been in Egypt for five generations, but she is the first to speak Arabic -- and she insists that Ram has: "never really known Egyptians".
       As she explains:

     'You are what you are; and that is a human being who was born in Egypt, who went to an English public school, who has read a lot of books, and who has an imagination. But to say you are this or that or Egyptian, is nonsense.'
     'What are you, Edna ?'
     'I can't be generalized about either, except that I was born Jewish. But the difference between you and me is that I know Egyptians and love them.'
       Ram likes to gamble and joke, and he charms the ladies, too, but he also feels uncomfortable in his privileged skin. It's not just because of jealousy that he finds his wealthy cousin Mounir nauseating; nevertheless, he also plays along with many of the family-games. He understands that these are difficult times, and his main reason for getting the over-qualified intellectual Font the job at the snooker club was to save his friend from himself, knowing that if he got involved in any political activism he would be crushed.
       Despite being such a layabout, it turns out that Ram does take on a small but dangerous role in the political struggles of the day -- his small attempt to effect change, which comes to an end when he overreaches in trying to draw more attention to the present-day situation. Disillusioned, realizing again how entrenched the dominant ways are, he finally gives in, resigning himself to a fate that promises to be comfortable but is very far from the ideals that Edna, for example, can live up to.
       It makes for a fascinating portrait of a specific class and lifestyle in the Egypt of that time. Ram sees little of the 'real' Egypt that Edna immerses herself in, moving instead in very different circles. Tellingly, many of his interactions with others involve gambling, money won and lost at bridge or at the pool table rather than earned through actual work. Ram has little money and relies on the generosity of his friends to carry him along; money means little to most of those he deals with because they never really have to think about it.
       Tellingly, too, Ghali -- whose Ram is surely based closely on his own life -- wrote Beer in the Snooker Club in English, rather than Arabic.
       Both comic and sad, Beer in the Snooker Club is unusual in its controlled anger -- characters explode on occasion, but not always as or when expected -- and in how Ghali does not allow Ram any easy answers or options, stringing him along just as life (but generally not fiction) often does.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 March 2014

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Links:

Beer in the Snooker Club: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Waguih Ghali was born in the 1920s and died in 1969.

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© 2014 the complete review

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