CAIRO: There is a considerable amount of humor and despondency in Walid Khairy’s collection of short stories, No One Saw You as You Walked by the Café. The stories contain a multitude of themes. Among them are family, religion, sex, fantasy, violence, social aspirations and hypocrisy.
In its entirety, the book mocks and exposes the injustices suffered and practiced by Egyptians, highlighting a prevalent sense of apathy, denial and frustration. It depicts scenes, sometimes funny and sometimes brutal, from the life of a lower class Egyptian, whether during childhood or manhood. Khairy s use of humor in his anecdotal narrative seeks not to entertain but rather to expose the permeating hypocrisy that is suffocating Egyptians. The prevailing preference to deny our existing problems and the seemingly impossible task of confronting or admitting our past and present failures is what Khairy ridicules the most.
Through Khairy’s protagonist’s we are introduced to the infuriating lack of privacy in over populated neighborhoods and homes and the austerity of life just above the poverty line. There are also frightening scenes depicting the animosity toward the upper-classes of society. The narrator is sometimes ruthless with his imagination toward the so-called privileged class and their signs of wealth.
The book includes stories of a veiled young girl who is having sex with her boyfriend and pacifies her conscience with the hope that she knows it is only a product of her imagination; a father who denies his son affection because it is unmanly; a mother-n-law whose hearing becomes selectively impaired in the presence of her suffering daughter-in-law, but when it comes to gossip she is all ears; and domestic violence allowed and encouraged by warped social standards and fear of social stigma.
Khairy portrays Egyptian society as a frustrated society that confuses superstition with religion and refuses to acknowledge the severe contradiction between its actions and their presumed morality. A society which mastered the art of escape and will go to great lengths to avoid confronting its fears even if it meant perpetrating crimes against themselves and others. Khairy writes in such an ingeniously concise yet nuanced style, you will have no difficulty visualizing these stories, which have the feel of Egyptian cinema masterpieces like Youm Morr Youm Helw (Bitter Day Sweet Day), and Afarit El Asfalt (Road Devils).
I imagine it would be difficult to translate this book and maintain its Egyptian feel. However, for Arabic readers, this is an insightful, witty and short read.