What life has taught Galal Amin

No not me, but it’s the title of Galal Amin’s book. A beautiful autobiography written introspectively and slowly. It is the product of many years of thinking, reading and writing. Even the selection of the cover photo is amazingly accurate. A family portrait with his father in the center, his mother absent and his brothers and sisters sitting around his father subtly tells how much this family has influenced the writer’s life. The mother’s absence in the photograph show how women were not included in this kind of thing too. Their serious looking faces portray the seriousness of the family and of taking a family picture which we now do all the time. We snap using our digital cameras, our phones and our web cams. So much has changed in this author’s lifetime and only by reading or hearing stories like his we can begin to appreciate the changes that have happened in Egypt and the world in the last seven decades or so.

I have always enjoyed Amin’s work, his TV interviews and his articles.  He always appears to have given his ideas lots of deep thought and reflection.  His arguments are solid and usually well laid so it is easy to follow and see his point of view.

Born in January of 1935, his father had wanted his mother to have an abortion because they already had 7 children, she refused and that is how he came to be.  The book is a lovely piece of reading, it is like being told stories by a great uncle about past years.  It is broken down in chapters where you can read each one on its own without skipping a beat.  From the monarchy to the revolution (I still think it should be called something else, it was not a real revolution), he has an interesting opinion at least worth knowing.  There were many things in the book that made me think,  and since it is way too long for me to review it as it is I will just point them out.

  • The amount of classical literature which he had read at a young boy is astounding.  It must have helped shaped his future ideas, character and beliefs.  I would also assume that it helped in his ability to analyze and come to a conclusion on his own.
  • One of the interesting points was on the Arab Unity.  How Syria, Lebanon and Iraq were very for this idea ( this was of course in the early fifties, post revolution).  How countries like Kuwait and the Emirates were never interested in it.
  • Another valid point, although slightly conspiracy theorist is the question of whether or not the United States was involved or at least blessed the revolution.  Amin seems to think so, he also thinks that the Sadat was an American puppet.  His argument is convincing although I believe that these things need proof for one to be able to confirm it.  He was also against Camp David and stopping the war early.  This I totally agree with, I have read other accounts of what happened and think that Sadat meant to stop the war when he did, either because he was told to do so by the Americans or he had already decided before hand that this was what he wanted to do.
  • In retrospect the author compares between all rulers of Egypt after the revolution.  Naguib was loved and respected, the people were shocked to see him go.  Abdelnasser ruled with an iron fist, did some good things, did lots of bad things, killed democracy, people’s spirit and did not offer Egypt anything better than the king did.  Sadat was unqulaified for the job, appeared to be democratic but turned out to be just as bad and started the fall of the Egyptian Economy.  As for our current leader, he’s not better than either, he is faithfully doing what the Sadat and Abdelnasser did only in a less obvious manner.
  • I also loved the chapter on his life in Kuwait and how little has changed from the seventies to today because it was so true and hit a raw nerve.  But perhaps I will do another long post on that later.
  • He recounts how the world and society has changed in the last 50 years and has become more consuming and interested in the material posessions in life and how this in turn has affected people’s expectations from life.  Money is never enough, a husband is never good enough because he can not provide enough, TV and ads bombard people constantly of how life should be, how you should own a villa, drive a car and all that has made people dissapointed.
  • The final chapter in the book is called Beginnings and Endings (bedayat wa nehayat) which I think is perfectly named.  How things have changed at their end from how they started out.  He started life with a fiery want to change the world and has realized that that is out of his reach.  He tells stories of all of the people he knew and how they were dissapointed in life.
  • He also describes a time when he was torn between deciding on two very good jobs and an older relative told him that later in life these decisions will not matter much because on the long run the effect of these short term decisions is minimal.
  • In the final page he says that although life is full of dissapointments it is still filled with happy moments and how there is still joy in life by seeing his children or grandchildren, enjoying a nice meal or having nice company.  On his father in law’s birthday, which was a couple of months after he (his father in law) had died, his wife and daughter went to visit his grave.  His daughter who was pregnant at the time went into labour and had her son on the same day as her grandfather’s birthday.  With this he concludes that a day which carried a sad memory was transformed into a beautiful one.

I personally learned alot and did alot of thinking during and after reading this book.  And there is no way I could have done the book justice by this short review.  It is full of gems of wisdom that are between the lines, lessons learned and beautiful memories of a man and also of a nation.  I give it a five star rating.