"A book to make you feel guilty you ever tried to bargain down a cab fare in any poor country." Chicago Tribune
"Taxi’s brilliance is that it captures the point at which cabs cease to be just a means of transportation." Foreign Policy
About the Author
Khaled Al Khamissi is a journalist, writer, film director and producer, and publisher. He has worked for the National Institute for Social Studies and has written as a journalist for several Egyptian newspapers, including Al Ahram. He has written and produced scripts for drama and documentary films and is a regular participant at international film festivals.
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In conversations with 58 Cairo cab drivers, this entertaining novel is a street-level and street-smart portrait of the City on the Nile. Each chapter is a character sketch, no two alike, though there is a theme that runs through most of them - the near impossibility of making a living driving a taxi in this crowded and chaotic metropolis. Each man has a story to tell, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious. Taken together they are a lament for the country's economic problems, the undependability of government, and the frustrations of dealing with law enforcement and a vast bureaucracy that seems unable to operate without the payment of bribes at every turn.
The quality of life, as observed by the men behind the wheel, is on a steady trend downward, and often their personal lives are cause for a yet additional string of grievances. Wives complain; children are intractable. The narrator encounters, cynicism, despair, rage, fatalism, faith finally in a just and protecting God. Meanwhile, relief from chagrin comes in the form of humor, as we listen in on an exchange of political and sexual jokes while drivers wait in a long queue at a petrol station. And on rare occasions there's a man who has achieved a kind of beatific peace with it all. If social and political realities are to be found beyond the limited vision of news coverage, this is the place to look.
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Taxi is an interesting patchwork of a novel by the freshly-minted Egyptian journalist-commentator-filmmaker cum writer Khaled al-Khamissi. The fifty-eight chapters that comprise this unusual book represent fifty-eight separate taxi rides taken by the narrator, who is merely the guise of a thinly-veiled al-Khamissi. This work is, in some sense, an ethnographic novel in that it attempts to portray the working lives of Cairo's 80,000+ taxi drivers through punctuated scenes (chapters) which are a cross-section of that part of society.
Al-Khamissi's portrayal of the Cairene cabby is definitely sympathetic though not patronizing. While giving due credence to the unique social and political perspectives that taxi drivers maintain by virtue of their near-constant physical presence on the maddening city streets, he does not shy away from revealing some of the wackier encounters with those drivers who spout conspiracy theories, conservatism and tales of faux poverty.
There are moments of knowing and astute political irony in Taxi. An example of the meta-critique of Egyptian government that pervades the book occurs in chapter seven, where the driver laments Egypt's arcane statutes regarding seatbelts and the myriad laws and tariffs and cost of it all to be borne by the poor taxi driver. At the end of that particular encounter after mentioning how he skirts the law by only installing a decorative rather than functional seat belt to appease the authorities, the driver tells the narrator: "We live a lie and believe it. The government's only role is to check that we believe the lie, don't you think?"
Mr. al-Khamissi works hard at being representational of the whole of Egyptian society through the work of the commentary and dialogue offered by his characters.Read more ›
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