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This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

SNOOKER AND SUEZ Waguih Ghali, Beer in the Snooker Club (Serpent's Tail) £4.95 pb

After a diet of what passes for the outstanding work of the moment, to come on Ghali's novel (first published in 1964) is to savour an experience of rare delight. With hindsight, Beer in the Snooker Club might be seen as belonging to a genre, the "been to" novel of a sub-Saharan African fiction. The book's hero, Ram (the story is told in the first person) is a familiar enough figure, the deracinated intellectual torn between the developed world, in this case England, and his homeland, loving aspects of both but at ease in neither. But this representative experience is made over freshly, no doubt by the intensity of Ghali's own experience of it, and freshness is apparent even at the level of subject matter for the homeland here is Egypt, rather than the Nigeria, Ghana or Kenya familiar to readers of Achebe, Armah and Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Ram is a Copt, and therefore in a minority in his own country, and a hanger-on to the impoverished fringes of a wealthy extended family whose power is essentially unchanged by revolution and the accession of Nasser. What should be the depressing chronicle of how Ram passes his days in boozing, gambling and random sex, all paid for by the contemporaries who are happily adjusting to the new world, is in fact rendered through a delicate hilarity whose underlying sadness is never far from the surface. The heart may sink slightly at the epigraph from Dostoevsky to Part I, ...


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