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Beer in the Snooker Club

by Waguih Ghali

Ghali's hero, Ram, is born a Copt in cosmopolitan Cairo some time in the 1940s. A great battle was raging in the desert, but Cairo was never bombed. It was a city of cultural confusion: British, French, Greek, Syrian, Armenian, Lebanese, Turkish, even a smattering of German and American. Multiple religions live side by side. But Copts are mysterious, special and elite.

Ram, and his inseperable friend, Font, become close friends with Edna, whose Jewish family are the Egyptian equivalent of Woolworths. She is amused by their longing to visit Europe, to see Piccadily and Speakers Corner and the intellectuals and the underground...The world of students who had rooms and typists for girlfriends, where miners were communists and policemen fascists; there was something called the 'bourgoisie' and someone called the landlady, where there was bullfighting and indoor swimming pools... In the end Edna paid for them to go to England.

They sailed in the early 1960s from Port Said. Edna took them to a hotel near Hyde Park Corner and gave them the New Statesman and the Guardian to read. They went with her to listen to speeches about South Africa, to rallies in Trafalgar Square; they listened to Bevan and Russell and Soper and Collins and heard Paul Robeson records. They felt passionately about the cruelty and injustices in the world.

Font remained Font, but Ram underwent a metamorphosis. The mental sophistication of Europe killed something innocent and natural in him. He lost the gift of his birth, 'something solid and hidden, and, most of all, natural'. Those who know what it is cannot possess it, says Ram. For him Europe bore no resemblance to the nirvana conjured up in Egypt. Even London dirt did not compare with the aromatic organic dirt of Egypt.

Back again in Cairo, Ram wakes to the call to the faithful. Beyond his shutters there is the secret rustle of palms, and the sun is already drying the scent of flowers. He dresses, has delicious coffee and croissants, kisses his mother and heads off to Groppi's to meet his friends and watch the world go by. His friends come in, have a few drinks and laugh about this and that. He decides to go to the Snooker Club where young Egyptians (and even older ones) drown their sexual longing and frustration in alcohol and gambling.

Ram takes down from behind the bar the two silver pint mugs with his and Fontís name engraved on them, from which they drank their Bass when they were in London. But there is no Bass in Nasser's Egypt, so Ram mixes pints of Egyptian beer with vodka and whiskey, which he thinks is near enough. Their argumentative Armenian friends arrive for a game and Ram thinks there are few things to compare with time spent with his friends joking, gambling and drinking. But he knows that in the end he must marry. But who will it be?

BEER IN THE SNOOKER CLUB is a reprinted classic. It is a very funny and touching love story as well as a subtle and understated exploration of alienation and multiculturalism.

Waguih Ghali committed suicide in 1969. His loss is irrevocable.

Published by Serpentís Tail, 224pp.

Paula McMaster


Rob Kent
I really like this review. Do you have a longer version of it anywhere?

I don't know about a longer version, but if you like Paula's reviews, she has a website with reviews of many books -

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