Hello! Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you are all healthy and safe and reading a lot of books. I’ve read one book this week and have reviewed it below. It’s about the importance of self-love, which is the best kind of love since it leads to all the other kinds of healthy love in life. I’ve also included links to donate to organizations supporting Ukrainians in need. Please do so if you are able.
The Automobile Club of Egypt, by Alaa Al Aswany,
Translated by Russell Harris
“‘Alku is our master, and were it not for his graciousness toward us, we’d all long ago have been back in Upper Egypt with our buffalos.’ ‘We wouldn’t have ended up looking after buffalos, Hagg Yusuf!’ Abdoun replied. ‘We were all respected in our hometowns. What we earn here is not thanks to anyone’s charitable heart. We work our fingers to the bone night and day for those wages. They don’t pay us as an act of kindness, and we deserve to be treated like human beings.’”
NOTE: I know the author of this book, but I reviewed it solely due to its own literary merits.
This is a book about the automobile club of Egypt, which was a place where the car-owning British occupiers of Egypt would go to socialize with other high-rollers (including the king of Egypt himself). The Egyptian staff-members of the automobile club are being exploited, but they cope by suppressing their own discontent and putting up with their mistreatment. Then comes Abdoun, a man who actually values himself enough to want to speak out against the abuse. Will he succeed in encouraging the other staff to demand the dignity they deserve? Or will he get destroyed by the apparatus of the club and state? (There are other characters and stories in this book as well, but I’m not going to spoil them for you!)
I really enjoyed this book’s sharp observations about humans: in terms of the dynamic of self-respect, of lacking it, of the governmental structures that exist in authoritarian regimes that suppress it, of Egyptian society in general.
I also really appreciated that the author didn’t take himself too seriously. What I mean is that, in some books, there’s the sense that if you don’t agree with what the author says you’re somehow wrong. This book put forth its main arguments very convincingly but didn’t have that suffocating kind of overly-serious storytelling. You could also tell he clearly enjoyed writing this book–it was very enjoyable to read.
Overall, this is one of those books whose characters are so well-drawn that it makes you reflect on your own life and how you interact with the world. This is a hallmark of terrific fiction. I would recommend this book for everyone.
As promised here’s a list of organizations that you could donate to to support Ukrainians in need:
Razom For Ukraine—Provides medical relief for soldiers and doctors on the front line. Donate here: https://razomforukraine.org/
Ukrainian National Women’s League of America—Provides humanitarian support to civilians and military hospitals. Donate here: https://unwla.org/top-news/call-for-humanitarian-aid/
Red Cross—Provides first aid, food, medicine, and evacuation help to Ukrainians. Donate here: https://www.redcross.org/donate/cm/abc.html/?subcode=abc-pub
Amnesty International—Investigates human rights violations in Ukraine to hold those responsible accountable, defends journalists and other people at risk. Donate here: https://www.amnestyusa.org/