On a Journey4′ di lettura

AlSaudiArabia.com | Vener­dì 12 dicem­bre 2008 |

Taxi is the most recent novel to crea­te a stir on the Egyp­tian lite­ra­ry sce­ne. The book was the talk of the town when it was publi­shed in Janua­ry 2007 and within a few mon­ths, it had sold some 20,000 copies, an asto­ni­shing num­ber in a coun­try whe­re novels rare­ly sell more than 3,000 copies.
Various fac­tors have undoub­ted­ly con­tri­bu­ted to its suc­cess. Fir­st, the book is writ­ten in col­lo­quial Ara­bic which the ave­ra­ge Egyp­tian can easi­ly rela­te to; second, it addres­ses bur­ning issues pla­guing Egyp­tian socie­ty and final­ly, the form of the book resem­bles a col­lec­tion of new­spa­per arti­cles. Cri­tics have dub­bed this sty­le jour­na­li­stic fic­tion. Yet, the author, Kha­led Al Kha­mis­si, insists on the lite­ra­ry aspect of his work.
Taxi is basi­cal­ly a col­lec­tion of 58 short sto­ries and each sto­ry takes the form of a fic­tio­nal dia­lo­gue with one of Cai­ros 80,000 cab dri­vers. The author, Kha­led Al Kha­mis­si, clear­ly sta­tes that he has never recor­ded any­thing and that Taxi is not repor­ta­ge or jour­na­li­sm. Yet, he has writ­ten with such gusto, sin­ce­ri­ty and rea­li­sm that rea­ders take the­se fic­tio­nal dia­lo­gues as the real thing.
A num­ber of per­ti­nent issues are brought up by the taxi dri­vers. Edu­ca­tion is men­tio­ned on seve­ral occa­sions. During one encoun­ter, a cab­bie cri­ti­ci­zes free edu­ca­tion: I tell you, he cant wri­te his own name. You call that a school? Tha­ts what free edu­ca­tion brings you. Edu­ca­tion for eve­ryo­ne, sir, is a won­der­ful dream but, like many dreams, its gone, lea­ving only an illu­sion. On paper, edu­ca­tion is like water and air, com­pul­so­ry for eve­ryo­ne, but the rea­li­ty is that rich peo­ple get edu­ca­ted and work and make money, whi­le the poor dont get edu­ca­ted and dont get jobs and dont earn any­thing.
Spea­king on the same sub­ject, ano­ther dri­ver also agrees that chil­dren dont learn a thing in school. He belie­ves that the only mot­to nowa­days is Get smart, make money becau­se nine­ty per­cent of peo­ple live off busi­ness and not from any­thing else.
Egyp­tians, Cai­re­nes espe­cial­ly, are kno­wn for their sen­se of humor, but the­re are times when peo­ple are so hea­vi­ly loa­ded with pro­blems that they fall apart. In an emo­tio­nal encoun­ter with a dri­ver and his bro­ther, the author sho­ws us how acu­te finan­cial pro­blems crush poor peo­ple: I was sur­pri­sed to find that the man, in front of me next to the dri­ver, was silen­tly wee­ping. He was a bro­wn-skin­ned giant with a bushy mou­sta­che. The calm was as thick as his moustache…The only sound was the inter­mit­tent and irre­gu­lar brea­thing of the giant as he wept. In our socie­ty it is a rare enou­gh occur­ren­ce to see a man cry­ing. To see a giant from sou­thern Egypt cry­ing is some­thing you could put in the Guin­ness Book of Records, wri­tes Al Kha­mis­si.
The author, who he is also a pro­du­cer, film direc­tor and jour­na­li­st, stu­died poli­ti­cal scien­ce at the Sor­bon­ne. His inte­re­st in socio­lo­gy and anth­ro­po­lo­gy is very evi­dent in Taxi. In fact, many have read it as a work of urban anth­ro­po­lo­gy. Galal Amin, an eco­no­mi­st and socio­lo­gi­st at the Ame­ri­can Uni­ver­si­ty in Cai­ro descri­bes the book as an inno­va­ti­ve work that pain­ts an extre­me­ly tru­th­ful pic­tu­re of the sta­te of Egyp­tian socie­ty today as seen by an impor­tant social sec­tor.
Kha­led Al Kha­mis­si has cho­sen to talk to taxi dri­vers becau­se they repre­sent one of the baro­me­ters of the unru­ly Egyp­tian street. They also come from all walks of life: Some are illi­te­ra­te and others hold masters degrees. But all of them have in com­mon a job which is phy­si­cal­ly exhau­sting and under­mi­nes their ner­vous systems.
Forei­gn rea­ders unfa­mi­liar with Egyp­tian poli­cies might not under­stand some of the issues addres­sed by the taxi dri­vers. Howe­ver, after rea­ding this live­ly series of dif­fe­rent dri­vers expe­rien­ces, it is pos­si­ble to under­stand how Egyp­tian poli­cies are affec­ting the lives of the poor. Taxi dri­vers all over the world and Egypt is no excep­tion meet an end­less mix of peo­ple. The­se dai­ly con­tac­ts give them a uni­que kno­w­led­ge of the socie­ty they live in. Throu­gh the con­ver­sa­tions they hold, they reflect an amal­gam of poin­ts of view which are most repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the poor in Egyp­tian socie­ty. It must be said that often I see in the poli­ti­cal ana­ly­sis of some dri­vers a grea­ter depth than I find among a num­ber of poli­ti­cal ana­lysts who pon­ti­fi­ca­te far and wide. For the cul­tu­re of this nation comes to light throu­gh its sim­ple peo­ple, and the Egyp­tian peo­ple real­ly are a tea­cher to anyo­ne who wishes to learn, says Al Kha­mis­si.
Toge­ther with The Yacou­bian Buil­ding by Alaa El Aswa­ni and Being Abbas El Abd by Ahmed El Aidy, Taxi has hel­ped revi­ve the habit of rea­ding in Egypt. More than just a series of con­ver­sa­tions, the novel offers a color­ful and rea­li­stic sli­ce of con­tem­po­ra­ry Egyp­tian life.


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