The Automobile Club of Egypt is Alaa al-Aswany’s latest book, and matches – if not bests – his earlier Yacoubian Building. Set in post-Second World War Cairo, it offers a portrait of the tensions between Egypt’s Turkish elite, European upper class, and native Egyptian working class in the period just before the monarchy’s deposition and Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise to power.
While the style of al-Aswany’s writing may often verge on journalise, it makes for easy and gripping reading. The Automobile Club of Egypt isn’t particularly hard work, but a fast pace and most chapters ending on a cliff-hanger before jumping to a different part of the narrative keep things interesting. As can be expected as standard from any of al-Aswany’s work, The Automobile Club of Egypt contains a vast and rich – but sometimes hard to follow – cast of characters. Unlike the Yacoubian Building, though, they are far more connected in the same plot line.
My only real criticism would be that al-Aswany fails to provide the reader proper historical context. There is nothing to tell the reader that the book is set at some point in post-Second World War Egypt, or, for example, that the royal family were Albanian Ottomans rather than Arab. However, that’s relatively minor and does little to detract from the overall reading experience.
The Automobile Club of Egypt is recommended, but not necessarily as an introduction to al-Aswany’s writing. Having some level of knowledge in Egyptian history would be helpful. Although not the most accessible novel, a certain type of audience would still enjoy it a lot.