‘The Hashish Waiter’: Freedom and Escape in the Era of Camp David

New in Al Masry Al Youm, a review of Khairy Shalaby’s The Hashish Waiter, trans. Adam Talib and published by AUC Press this year. For those interested, last month we also ran a Q&A with Talib. The review:

A number of books that were published decades before the 2011 revolution seem to speak directly to Egypt’s current situation. Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club (1964) and Naguib Mahfouz’s Harafish (1977) are important reads that address how a revolution can be degraded or lost.

Khairy Shalaby’s The Hashish Waiter (2002), translated by Adam Talib and released by AUC Press earlier this year, also sheds fresh light on Egypt’s political situation. The novel is particularly timely for its look at the fraught relationship between Egypt’s people and its foreign policy.

The Hashish Waiter is set around the 1978 Camp David Accords, which spawned the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty in 1979. In 1978, the novel’s main characters meet regularly in a downtown hash den. The book explores the limits of their freedom in an Egypt colonized both by internal and external forces.

The narrator is a writer, but the book’s main character is Rowdy Salih, the titular “hashish waiter.” Salih is, in some ways, the archetype of a pre-25 January “free” Egyptian. He is a hash smoker, submits to no one, sleeps and eats when he likes, works hard when he chooses, and some days doesn’t work at all. He’s called a thug by some and a man of conscience by others. For much of the book, Salih represents the spirit of liberation all the main characters desire. Keep reading on Al Masry Al Youm.

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