Waguih Ghali

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Waguih Ghali (Feb 25, 192(?) Egypt– Jan 5, 1969 London, England) وجيه غالي was a Coptic, Anglophone Egyptian writer, best known for his novel Beer in the Snooker Club (André Deutsch, 1964). Fearing political persecution, Ghali spent his adult years impoverished, living in exile in Europe. He died by his own hand on January 5, 1969.


Waguih Ghali was born in Alexandria, Egypt to a Coptic family. According to Ghali’s friend and editor, Diana Athill, Ghali carefully obscured details about his past.[1] Ghali’s diary confirms his birthdate (February 25), but not his birth year. He was likely born between 1927 and 1929. When he was young, his father died, and his mother (née Ibrahim) remarried. In his diary Ghali writes about his family’s financial struggles. Homeless, he shuttled among friends and relatives in both Alexandria and Cairo. Yet, members of his extended family were wealthy and influential, and one sees the evidence of a life of privilege in his writings as well.

Ghali attended Victoria College, variously at the Alexandria and Cairo campuses, from 1944-1947.[2] He studied in the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University, and was present when the students staged a demonstration on December 4, 1948 that left the police chief, Selim Zaki, dead.[3] Ghali started but did not complete medical studies in at the Sorbonne in Paris. He left Paris in 1953. He also lived in London in the mid-1950s.

One report suggests that he left Egypt for good in 1958.[4] However, personal narrative essays he published in the Guardian (Manchester) between 1957 and 1959 about life in exile suggest that Ghali was already living in Europe by that time. After living in Stockholm, Ghali moved to West Germany in 1960. According to Athill he picked up whatever work he could find, including at the docks in Hamburg, as laborer in factories, and as a clerk.[1] From 1964 until 1966, he was employed by the British Army Royal Pay Corps in Rheydt, West Germany. In May 1966 Ghali returned to London, where he continued to pick up odd jobs.

On December 26, 1968 Waguih Ghali swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills in Diana Athill’s apartment. He died on January 5, 1969. Athill published a fictionalized account of her relationship with Ghali entitled After a Funeral (1986).[5]


Essays in The Guardian (Manchester)[edit]

Between 1957 and 1959 Ghali published six short personal narrative essays in The Guardian (Manchester). These essays are Ghali’s first known published works. The first article, “My Friend Kamal,” recounts Ghali’s political activism in Cairo in the late 1940s. This piece reappears in fictionalized form in Beer in the Snooker Club. The remaining essays, along with another piece also published in The Guardian in 1965, recount his experiences living in exile in Europe: “My Friend Kamal,” 5 Jun 1957; “Lessons for Mr. Luigi,” 21 Apr 1958; “Culture for Daimler,” 24 Nov 1958; “The Writers,” 29 Jan 1959; “An Indian Courier,” 16 March 1959; “Captains of My Ship,” 12 Nov 1959; “The Roses are Real,” 20 Feb 1965.

Beer in the Snooker Club[edit]

Ghali began composing the novel Beer in the Snooker Club while living in Stockholm and he completed it in West Germany. The novel was first published by Andre Deutsch in London in 1964. It was reprinted by Penguin in 1968 and by Serpent’s Tail in 1987 and 2010. Beer in the Snooker Club has been translated into French,[6] Hebrew,[7] Dutch,[8] Arabic,[9][10] Italian,[11] and Spanish.[12]

Beer in the Snooker Club is about a young Copt named Ram, who, like the author, has little money, but has benefited from a life of privilege. A politically savvy novel set in the 1950s, the narrative critiques both the British colonial enterprise and the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ram and his equally impoverished friend Font meet and befriend a Jewish communist from a wealthy family named Edna. At the time, the two boys were students at the university and involved in demonstrations against the continued British presence in the Suez Canal Zone. A romance develops between Ram, a Coptic Christian, and Edna, an Egyptian Jew. Edna encourages Ram and Font to round out their education, and helps support sending them to London. Ram and Font’s visit to London is cut short by the 1956 Suez Crisis. Upon his return to Cairo, Ram is struck by the brutality of the Nasser regime.

The novel portrays two societies in transition. Following the 1956 Suez Crisis, Egypt’s foreign minority communities began leaving, and the cosmopolitan character of Egypt’s cities began to wane. The Suez Crisis also signaled the end of Great Britain’s reign as a colonial power. Beer in the Snooker Club captures both of these transitions.[13]

Unpublished writings[edit]

Ghali was at work on a second novel when he died on January 5, 1969. In his diary, Ghali referred to the work in progress as the “Ashl novel.” Upon his death, he left behind fragments of this unfinished novel as well as six notebooks of diaries.[14] Cornell University Library has digitized this archive of unpublished work.[15]

Critical reception of Beer in the Snooker Club[edit]

As Ahdaf Soueif notes, “Waguih Ghali’s excellent novel Beer in the Snooker Club was published by André Deutsch in 1964. It attracted attention and enthusiastic reviews. The same happened when it was reissued in the Penguin New Writers Series in 1968.”[16] The novel was positively reviewed in both the Times (London)[17] and the New York Times,[18] as well as in the Guardian (Manchester),[19] The New Statesman,[20] the Times Literary Supplement,[21] and The New Yorker,[22] and elsewhere. In his contemporaneous review of the novel Martin Levin calls the book “a small masterpiece of a novel that does several things with astonishing virtuosity. It gives an Egyptian’s view of Nasser’s Egypt that brilliantly communicates the texture of this experience. It depicts political conflicts before and after Suez in terms of imagery that transcend journalistic platitudes. And it creates an original and complex protagonist.”[18]

Two years prior to the third reissue of Beer in the Snooker Club, in a letter to the editors of the London Review of Books, novelist Gabriel Josipovici wrote, “Beer in the Snooker Club is the best book ever written about Egypt (better even than my grandfather’s Goha le Simple)[23] and it is a crying shame that it is out of print.”[24]

Each subsequent reissue generated additional positive reviews, attesting to the continued importance of the novel.[25][26][27]

The novel was cited in some cultural analyses following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Helen Stuhr-Rommereim wrote that the novel’s “themes echo a similar discourse that fills Cairo today.”[28] Negar Azimi also wrote that Beer in the Snooker Club “presents uncanny parallels to today’s Egypt, where artists, intellectuals and youth at large are beginning to fashion a new cultural republic of sorts even as they also struggle to find their bearings.”[29]

Travel to Israel[edit]

Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Waguih Ghali visited Israel as a free-lance journalist. During his stay, which lasted for six weeks from July through September 1967, he filed two articles for the Times (London).[30][31] In December 1967, he recorded a longer reflection on his visit for the BBC [the transcript of which was published in January 1968].[32] His reports offer nuanced insights into the mood in Israel following the war.

Ghali had already been denied renewal of his Egyptian passport, so he had little to lose politically by visiting the state with which his native country had recently been at war. Personally, however, he suffered from the criticism he received from fellow Egyptians.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Athill, Diana (1986). After a Funeral. New York: Ticknor & Fields. p. 43. 
  2. ^ Clement (2002). Clement and Hamouda, ed. Victoria College: A History Revealed. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press. p. 185. 
  3. ^ Ghali, Waguih (June 5, 1957). "My Friend Kamal". The Guardian. 
  4. ^ Soueif, Ahdaf (July 3, 1986). "Goat Face". London Review of Books. 
  5. ^ Athill, Diana (1986). After a Funeral. New York: Ticknor & Fields. 
  6. ^ Ghali, Waguih; Elisabeth Janvier (1965). Les Jeunes Pachas (in French). Paris: R. Laffont. 
  7. ^ Ghali, Waguih (1965). Mashkaot Harifim U-Ne`Arot Zolot: Roman Aktuali (in Hebrew). Tel Aviv: Mehkarim. 
  8. ^ Ghali, Waguih; Paul Heijman (1990). Bier in de snookerclub (in Dutch). Amsterdam: Nijgh & Van Ditmar. 
  9. ^ Ghali, Waguih; Mahir Shafiq Farid; Hanaʼ Nasir (2006). Bira fi nadi al-bilyardu (in Arabic). Cairo: Dar al-ʻalam al-thalith. 
  10. ^ Ghali, Waguih; Iman Mersal; Reem al-Rayyes (2013). Bira fi nadi al-bilyardu (in Arabic). Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq. 
  11. ^ Ghali, Waguih (2009). Birra E Biliardo Al Cairo : Romanzo (in Italian). Rome: Gremese. 
  12. ^ Ghali, Waguih (2012). Cerveza En El Club De Snooker (in Spanish). Sajalin Editores. 
  13. ^ Starr, Deborah (2006). "Drinking, Gambling, and Making Merry: Waguih Ghali's Search for Cosmopolitan Agency". Middle Eastern Literatures. 9 (3): 271–285. doi:10.1080/14752620600999896. 
  14. ^ Starr, Deborah (2006). "Drinking, Gambling, and Making Merry: Waguih Ghali's Search for Cosmopolitan Agency". Middle Eastern Literatures. 9 (3): 280–1. doi:10.1080/14752620600999896. 
  15. ^ "Waguih Ghali Unpublished Papers". Cornell University Library. 
  16. ^ Souief, Ahdaf (3 July 1968). "Goat Face". London Review of Books: 11–12. 
  17. ^ "New Fiction". The Times. February 20, 1964. p. 16. 
  18. ^ a b Levin, Martin (June 14, 1964). "Futility Lurked at Every Corner". New York Times Book Review. pp. 4–5. 
  19. ^ Webb, W. L. (21 February 1964). "Anger in Egypt". The Guardian. p. 9. 
  20. ^ Bryden, Ronald (21 February 1964). "Out of the Cradle". New Statesman: 301. 
  21. ^ Kroll, Stephen (20 February 1964). "Doubter on the Nile". Times Literary Supplement: 141. 
  22. ^ West, Anthony (12 September 1964). "Playing the Game". New Yorker: 203. 
  23. ^ Ades, Albert; Albert Josipovici (1919). Le livre de Goha le Simple. Paris: Calmann-Levi. 
  24. ^ Josipovici, Gabriel (24 July 1986). "Out of Egypt". London Review of Books. 8 (13). Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  25. ^ Marcus, James (12 March 1968). "State of Shock". The Nation: 349–50. 
  26. ^ Aspden, Rachel (December 4, 2012). [, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/dec/05/beer-in-snooker-club-ghali-review "Review of Beer in the Snooker Club"] Check |url= value (help). The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  27. ^ Qualey, M. Lynx. "Beer in the Snooker Club: Egypt Then and Now,". AGNI Online. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  28. ^ Stuhr-Rommereim, Helen (July 24, 2011). "Revisiting Beer in the Snooker Club in Revolutionary Times". Egypt Independent. 
  29. ^ Azimi, Negar (September 11, 2011). "What do Egypt's writers do now?". New York Times Book Review. p. 35. 
  30. ^ Ghali, Waguih (August 10, 1967). "An Egyptian Watches Arab Anger Rise". The Times. London. p. 6. 
  31. ^ Ghali, Waguih (September 1, 1967). "An Egyptian's report from Israel". The Times. London. p. 9. 
  32. ^ Ghali, Waguih (January 11, 1968). "An Egyptian in Israel": 50–52.